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Design will have a seat at the table – what do we do with it?

Of late, there’s been some discussion about whether the role of design will have a seat at the table — you know the table, the large mahogany one where all the important decisions are made.

Adaptive Path’s search for a CEO (or, as one candidate put it to me yesterday, “It’s like your adopting a parent,”) has given me many opportunities to discuss the role and value of design. One of the criteria we have for a CEO is to help us enter new markets, and as part of that, to communicate the value of experience design at higher levels of the organization.

Adaptive Path is built on a foundation of balancing strategy and design. We think our strategy work is better because we know what it will take to execute, and we think our design work is better because it respects the strategic context in which it is placed. A concern I have, with bringing on a CEO, and asking that person to get us involved in C- and board-level discussions, is that our work would begin to tip toward strategy. It’s commonly believed that strategy is where the money is, where the higher billing rates are, and it’s natural to want to shift focus toward the higher margin work.

In one of my conversations, though, I was talking about how we’re currently getting greater exposure to the C-level. While we’ve always had C-level relationships with the startups we worked with, in 2007, we started developing those relationships with billion dollar companies whose names you’d recognize. And those relationships were borne directly from our design work.

These are companies that have recognized that their primary value, the main thing they have to offer customers, is the experience they deliver. Internet pureplays have had to understand this before everyone else, because, typically, their service is free (as is their competitors, so switching is pretty easy), and so they must compel with the one thing they have – a website experience.

In a later post I hope to plumb into more details (and set experience design work in opposition of brand/marketing design approaches), but what I wanted to get across here is that experience design will have a seat at the table, because in a service economy, the quality of experience connects directly to value. Many experience designers can keep doing what they’re doing and they will find themselves talking to more VPs, then C-level execs, and even boards. It should get interesting.

  1. According to Mark Dziersk, formerly of Herbst LaZar Bell and head of IDSA, designers have to teach business people how to be creative, preferably by sending them to weaving classes. At least, that was what he suggested in an article in Fast Company (they seem to have moved the article, and a search didn’t turn it up, but here’s a blog post I wrote about it after it first appeared:

    IDSA and many individual designers are still acting as though design is not recognized or understood by business — get over it! Design has more influence in business now than at any time since the 1960’s.

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