Design is Dirty

Writing from the road... the Strategy Conference at IIT in Chicago

So spoke Roger Martin of Rotman at the end of yesterday’s leg of the Strategy Conference. It was a throwaway comment, aimed to illustrate the discomfort many of his business students feel when confronted with the design thinking part of Rotman’s curriculum. But it’s an attitude that follows many of those students once they’re ensconced in the business world. Matthew Holloway of SAP gave another example of the tension between design and business – one of his colleagues from the Design Services Team was heading to a client meeting and collared by a business colleague, concerned that she was going to let the side down by being all “wacky creative”, wearing blue jeans and midriff-revealing top. This assumption that a designer can’t behave in public is entertaining – but horrifying. And while some smart CEOs are realizing how crucial design and innovation are to a company’s continued growth and success, the current wave of ‘innovation fatigue’ points to the reality that we’ve reached something of a split in the road. Designers need to be proactive to do all they can to allay the fears of those who don’t understand them or their craft in order to encourage businesses to take the path which includes the discipline as a cornerstone of business, not as an added extra or a pretty frill to be stuck on top. Some of the CEOs who get it are here (Jim Hackett gave a great presentation outlining his efforts to institutionalize ‘thinking’ – an alarming practice for managers who prefer to see tangible results of how time spent – as an integral part of Steelcase’s corporate practice). But others are going to need more help.

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