Has the value of design in business improved in the last 30 years?

In 1988 Peter Lawrence, co-founder of the DMI Design Management Institute and the Corporate Design Foundation, stated that design was a corporate asset requiring management like any other asset, commenting on the fact that many executives still treated design as superficial and expendable and suggesting designers need to participate in the customer research process. Though very influenced by a very physical product view of the world (the digital revolution hadn’t kicked off yet) and therefore of Industrial design, the article uses a number of examples and success cases from Sony to Xerox and to the Ford Motor Company, making a case for design in large corporations as a necessity, and calling out that lack of attention to design in the management literature and education, as well as in companies.

In the Spring 2006 edition of the Design Management Review ‘Time for Design’, Liedtka & Mintzberg point out that design is, again, missing in management training and that business does not understand design adequately, stating it’s not at the core of any management training, that there is no agreement on what design means, that organizations don’t ignore design but assume it in a narrow way.

Thirty-three years after Peter Lawrence’s article and fifteen years later the Liedtka & Mintzberg article, Mckinsey in 2020 issues a report entitled ‘Are You Asking Enough of Your Design Leaders’ and Fast Company resumed it by stating that although 40 of the top companies hired a chief design officer (not necessarily at N-1 position), nobody knows what a CDO is supposed to do and they have been integrated in C-suites ineffectively and confusingly.

So, one wonders what has actually happened in the last thirty years since Peter Lawrence discussed the value of design in business.

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