13 May 2016
Peter Bogaards
Peter Bogaards

Paradigm shift: Report on the new role of design in business and society

Must-read for design execs & digital designers

Once in a while an article emerges that successfully synthesizes a trend we have been observing in recent years: the value design creates for business. Besides well-known examples (Apple, IBM and Capital One) a reflective point of view on this trend and possible future developments and scenarios are more than welcome.

Guest Associate Professor at the College of Design & Innovation at Tongji University Gjoko Muratovski produced such an extensive report in She Ji (The Journal of Design, Business & Society – Winter 2015) on the value design has for business. We collected some significant descriptions, quotes and phrases to get a flavor of the author’s analysis on the changing context, meaning and position of design and designers.

Abstract of the report

“Corporate cultures’ prevailing attitudes towards design have begun to shift. Financial companies and management consultancies now have design teams, and include ‘design’ in their service portfolios. Large corporations are bolstering their in-house design capabilities, and appointing designers to executive roles. Venture capitalist firms and startups increasingly recognize the value of including designers in the early stages of business development. Even global organizations and international foundations now list design on their agendas. A paradigm shift is taking place in the field of design. This study examines some of the latest corporate investments in design, and reflects on what this phenomenon means for the wider field of design. The focus of this study is on the key trend indicators that are defining the current landscape of design and its changing role in business and society.”

What’s happening?

All types of organizations, including once-conservative management consultancies, financial organizations, and banks, have begun to adopt ‘design thinking’ as their guiding principle and are building their internal design competencies.

Design is now seen as a field of thinking, rather than making. As a result, in the past decade, we have witnessed an increase in independent design thinking consultancies, followed by a newfound interest in establishing corporate in-house design teams.

Design methodologies once used to design products are now being used to design systems, processes, services, digital interfaces, entertainment, communications, and other kinds of human-centered activities.

Categorized examples

The author identifies four categories in which design has a strong impact on the success of businesses and other organizations.

  1. Design as a strategic business resource with examples as Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, and IBM.
  2. Design and businesses building in-house design capabilities with many examples as Bloomberg, PwC, Deloitte, Accenture, Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey, Fidelity, Capital One, Barclays, and Facebook.
  3. Design entrepreneurship with designers at the C-level of start-ups, as exemplified by the portfolios of Google Ventures and Khosla Ventures.
  4. Design for social innovation and sustainability with examples from the UN, World bank, Rockefeller Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Clinton Foundation.

These examples imply that the world today needs designers that are not only aesthetically sensitive, but also culturally aware, inquisitive, and able to think both vertically (logical thinking) and laterally (intuitive thinking).

It’s a megatrend

The emergence of design as a strategic resource for business and social innovation has all the hallmarks of a megatrend. It is characterized by enormous social, economic, political, environmental, and technological change that is slow to emerge, but once in place, has the potential to influence a wide range of activities, processes and perceptions, both in government and society, and possibly for decades to come. There are several trend indicators that can be deduced:

  1. The need for in-house design teams will continue to grow.
  2. The emergence of Big Data and the Internet of Things is becoming increasingly relevant to many large businesses and governments for the purpose of communicating complex data with the general public in an easy-to understand ways. We will soon have access to an unprecedented amount of new data and information. The need for information architects who deal with data visualization will continue to grow.
  3. UI/UX designers are likely to become the largest design sector in the times to come.
  4. Design is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary by nature.
  5. The shift to applying evidence-based design and HCD approaches in design creates a need to learn appropriate research skills. Universities are introducing research-driven design curriculums and reducing design programs that focus solely on technical design skills. (…) Masters’ degrees in Design are likely to become the new standard in the field of design.
  6. The way businesses and designers operate will continue to evolve. Their focus will shift from problem solving to problem finding.
  7. The new reputation that design is gaining as an agent of social change and sustainability can create new opportunities for both designers and businesses that are developing their own strategic design capabilities.

The future

The rise of the designer as a business executive and the growth of the corporate in-house design teams is a new trend that needs further exploration and research over time in three areas, of varying levels of complexity and scope.

  • Define a profile of an executive corporate designer.
  • Develop a model for optimal organizational structure of corporate in-house design teams and outline the types of methodologies that these teams could use in their work.
  • Explore how design education will need to change in order to address these new developments in the field of design.

Download the full report

We encourage you to read the full article: Muratovski, Gjoko (2015) “Paradigm Shift: Report on the New Role of Design in Business and Society” in She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation (Volume 1, Issue 2)

See also

Another relevant annual research report regarding this trend is the work of John Maeda (former Design Partner at VC firm KPCB): #DesigninTech versions 2015 (video), 2016 (video), 2017 (video), 2018, and 2019 (video).

Our principal service designer Jesse Grimes wrote a BiRDS post covering mergers and acquisitions in Service Design.

About the author

Peter Bogaards (a.k.a. @BogieZero) is the editor-in-chief of our blog BiRDS. Peter also works as a curator and coach at Informaat experience design. He has been an online content curator avant-la-lettre in various UX-related fields for almost three decades, choosing what he thinks is interesting, relevant or remarkable to share.

Design (23), UX management (13)