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.