Commentary

Design As A Mission Critical Business Function

Everything is designed.  Products, processes, packaging, interfaces.  Even content, advertising, campaign plans and strategies are designed — even if we don’t always apply the term.

We all know companies that seem to do a great job when it comes to design, and there are plenty of products and services that we deride or complain about either directly or indirectly because they are poorly designed — everything from a program guide on TV to a Web site. Almost without exception, the companies we admire in this respect regard design as a mission critical business function.

When you put a product in front of a potential user for the first time, the level of their desire to touch it is a testimony to how well it is designed. Does it generate an emotional and physical response and a desire to literally connect?  If so, then the path to success is established, provided other product qualities deliver as the relationship unfolds.

This is as true of products as it is of the content we use to communicate with audiences.  Whether thinking how something looks and functions or how it sounds, consumer response is something we design to manipulate.  As an example, just think about a James Bond movie. 

A few times in every movie, we become aware of the timeless Bond theme, a signal that has conditioned us to emotionally respond to a set-piece spectacle that promises to be a high-point in the movie.  It’s a classic piece of music, but it’s also a classic piece of soundtrack design. And it does the job just as brilliantly now as it has done for years.

The best use of design comes when it is integral to the entire business process — when it is recognized as an ongoing thought process, not simply something associated with how something looks or functions. (That is the obvious element of design thinking.)

Who should be responsible for championing design across the operations of a business?  It’s not the CMO, because design is applied on a much broader canvas than merely marketing.  There is a need for more businesses to create the role of Chief Design Officer (or some other similarly grand title) that is supported by resource and authority to work across the entire business. The goal: bringing the best of design thinking to business processes, products and communications.

After all, consumers view a company as a coherent whole; present it as one. When it comes to communications, a unified design sense manifested across platforms and communications channels is hard to attain, but even harder without a central champion to make it happen.

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