What got you here won’t get you there.
Standing on the precipice of a new future and looking toward the horizon, it’s clear the landscape has shifted. And will continue to evolve. Design leadership is change management — and it’s time to transform ourselves.
Design leaders in this new future can no longer focus on the desirability circle of the HCD Venn diagram and expect other disciplines to handle viability and feasibility completely. Our leaders and teams need to be multi-lingual — it’s time to lean in.
Companies need and want catalyst leadership, but there’s an apparent mismatch in expectations.
Here are three ways to shape design’s future in business and thrive as a leader:
1: Develop an integrated skillset and leverage technology.
Bring together new domain knowledge and emerging technology to become a powerhouse.
T-shaped leaders move beyond design disciplines in this environment. Business and technical acumen are required. Emerging technology is embraced and leveraged.
Designers need to understand the human insight and business aspects of the work, including leveraging data that drives business, data science, and AI/ML. Forward-leaning designers must learn to use AI-assisted tools to increase space for more strategic work.
Fuse the strategic design and business strategy toolkit. Envision experiences through service blueprints, develop approaches through future casting and opportunity framing, and map directly to ROI.
Make the future tangible through visualization, mapping, and prototyping.
2: Demonstrate business fluency and impact.
Show up as a business operator that’s driving sustainable growth.
Gain a deeper understanding of how the business works and how it makes money. Discover how value is created and what’s essential to the company. What are the most significant external and internal threats? What is the business strategy, and are you more focused on exploitation vs. exploration?
Focus on the metrics that move the business.
Don’t waste time developing a new set of metrics outside the business’s goal. Align on shared outcomes. Develop a shared vocabulary that grounds discussions in reality vs. theory.
Design leaders require business fluency and the ability to directly connect the work to the impact it’s creating for the business. Otherwise, they end up focusing most of their time down instead of across and up, lacking comfort in business conversations and accountability to metrics that move the needle.
Directly connect the work to the impact and ROI.
3: Architect a culture of system thinking, experimentation, and collaboration.
Become the orchestrator and organizational designer.
World-class organizations will move beyond the basics. Develop embedded capabilities and practices like service design, experience strategy, design technology, and experience architecture. This also requires hybrid leadership.
Define, hire, and develop talent along a spectrum from craft to strategy.
There’s a skillset distinction between shipping products, building platforms, and defining and mapping business systems and opportunities. The right talent and alignment are needed for strategic design, with accountability to deliver outcomes. Create integrated processes, mechanisms, and operating models leveraging cross-functional teams.
Strategy and organizational operating systems are connected.
Develop strong advanced product teams with portfolios aligned to the company’s strategic intent and clear accountability to budget and outcomes. Adapt your organization to what the company needs now while building the capability to create value for the future in adjacent markets.
Build a culture of hands-on experimentation through prototyping, modeling, testing, and iterating.
This is an exciting time where design leaders can shape the future of business if they are ready for it. It requires an integrated skillset, business fluency, and a culture of experimentation. The time is now.