Design now leads but who will lead design?

Mahin Samadani

While many firms here in the Silicon Valley may have been slow to join the movement, it has become very clear that design-led thinking has become tremendously important at the senior executive level. Whereas a decade ago when I’d talk to new clients I would need to spend a lot of time educating them on the value of design-led thinking. Now when I meet a prospect it’s very likely they have embraced design as a central value and are busy re-working their organization around it. Of course many brands have been on this path for a while, but more and more technology-centric firms (especially B2B types) are quickly catching up. I’ve been seeing a massive increase of designers in senior management roles at a range of companies, which indicates a fundamental shift in thinking.

The “consumerization of the enterprise” is no longer on the horizon – it’s now a mainstream trend, with every major client I speak to working to make their products and marketing efforts more user-friendly. Firms up and down the valley are luring agency owners in-house and poaching talent from known design-leaders to not just lead their design teams but to play senior management roles. As one senior former Apple design manager recently told me, “It’s a good time to leave if you’ve been there a while”.

The good news is we can count on eventually seeing better products both at work and at home, as the savvy firms adjust their focus.  A significant challenge remains however for these firms to build out teams that can get to work on creating these great new products. Especially when Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and a range of exciting startups can offer projects that appeal to a designers mentality – not to mention the promise of stock options. This environment makes it extremely difficult for less “sexy” enterprise-focused employers to pull in qualified talent, let alone compete with the type of appeal a true design studio offers to the thought-leaders and trend-setters.

What does this dearth of talent mean to management teams, other than the obvious difficulty in keeping a top-drawer staff on hand? Yes the costs of hiring such talent have risen dramatically but it’s really become an issue far beyond simply the cost of hiring and retaining talent – it’s turning into a product development and delivery issue.

This scarcity has created a beneficial environment for Fjord as we offer our clients an approach that helps pivot and propel them into service level design-led thinking with our world-class talent base.  It is simply much more advantageous to have a Fjord team come in, quickly assess the situation and get to work. Usually by the time our client could have started vetting candidate resumes, we’re already in round 1 design review. And in a world of compressed product lifecycles and intense competition – that could be the difference between survival and irrelevance.

Mahin Samadani

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