Why Chief Design Officers Need To Lead In The Boardroom

Putting design leadership to define strategy makes good business sense

“A successful digital product strategy uses validated learning, scientific experimentation, and iterative releases to deliver products and services as a cross-functional team that accurately meet customer and business needs with a minimum waste of investment.”

- Eewei Chen, How To Create Awesome Digital Consumer Products


Many traditional methods of advertising and marketing are no longer effective alone at convincing consumers to choose products. Early work by Dieter Rams whilst as Design Director at Braun has allowed the likes of the late Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ives at Apple, Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Peter Schreyer at Kia and Choi Gee Sung at Samsung to draw a direct correlation between a quality customer experience and product sales, making design the most highly valued aspect of product design. 

What does a CDO do?

Chief Design Officers (CDOs) ensure products market and differentiate themselves through awesome aesthetic and customer experiences. CDOs look after all design aspects of a company’s products and services, including product, user experience, industrial, service and package design and in some instances, content strategy, advertising, marketing, and engineering.

Here are  the Top 5 things a CDO (or having a CDO mindset) needs to achieve:

  1. Foster a corporate design culture. Expansively factor design in early, often and throughout the product definition process, including leading the strategic planning, early and continuous design validation, development and support of tactical and innovation efforts.
  2. Constantly measure and improve experiments. Empower and adapt Lean Startup and Agile approaches to make abstract thoughts and inspirations into proof of concept prototypes, validating assumptions, reducing risk and mapping to the most important business metrics with a minimum of upfront investment.
  3. Apply a sympathetic human-centred design approach. Take the lead to not only understand customers to better define products and services but also ensure marketing and advertising address important needs to build long-lasting, loyal relationships whilst still meeting business needs.
  4. Collaborate and perform as cross functional teams. Connect important disciplines, drive and support delivery, maintain a shared understanding of changing requirements, create a self service and knowledge management ecosystem, give total transparency of  progress through the use of online guidelines, best practices, access to proof of concept experiments, relevant business metrics and usability research recommendations.
  5. Simply processes and principles. Reduce process, improve work practices, encourage ideas and experimentation, solve problems and free teams up to do what they are best at. Enable organisations to improve what exists tactically and make innovation useful.

Further Reading:

3 Minutes To Disrupt The Tech and Entertainment Industry

Emotivu Elevator Pitch (picture courtesy of 2Pears)

3 minutes

This is the time I had to pitch, Emoti.vu to a panel of judges and investors at the first TechPitch 4.5 event of 2013. It takes 3 minutes to make my coffee in the morning. Not a lot of time.

If you know you’ve got a game changing idea and believe enough in it to put all your money and efforts into making it a reality, then you better be ready when it comes time to selling that idea to people who can help you go super sonic.

Here are 3 things you can do in 3 minutes to persuade anyone that your idea is the only idea worth investing in.

1. Do your home work

Is there a problem to be solved in the first place and are you solving the right problem? Do enough market research and early validation to prove there is a real desperate need for something better and it has to be a big, massive gapping need. A lot of money is being spent on Sentiment Analysis, Mobile Advertising and Second Screen audience engagement. Emotivu will make it faster and easier to find things you are interested in without having to do anything apart from logging in with your Twitter or Facebook account. We suggest Movies based on your tweets and Facebook posts.

2. Spend it wisely

Show investors you’re NOT going to buy a Ferrari or home in the Caribbean with the money they give you. Recognise what’s important to help grow market share and give investors a good Return On Investment (ROI). I clearly stated that Emotivu would spend investment capitol on improving our algorithmacquiring users through social media marketing and increasing our content coverage to include more industry verticals (Music, Books, Events, Fashion, Travel, Electronics, Gifts are all in the pipeline).

3. Make sure you’re better

I’ve been quoted as saying: “Emotivu is going to disrupt the entertainment industry”. Know your competition and be able to show how you have an improved and differentiated proposition. Back these up with stats for credibility. I used an Elevator Pitch and a Purpose Alignment Chart to highlight how much easier and more relevant were were than existing industry peers.

Oh yeah, Emotivu won!

We won the TechPitch 4.5 event. So watch this space for more exciting instalments as we continue to disrupt the technology and entertainment industry as best we can.

Thanks to the organisers:

Petra Johansson @PetraJohansson
Rassami Hokljunberg @rassami
TechPitch4.5 @techpitch4pt5

Thanks to all the judges and investors:

Chair: Danvers Baillieu, Privax @danversbaillieu
Julian Carter, EC1 Capital @julianlcarter
Stefan Bardega, MediaCom @stefbard
Tom Turcan, Runcat Consulting @tomturcan
William Chappel, Barclays Corporate – Technology, Media & Telecoms Team
Xaver Matt, Netleadz @xavermatt

Understand cultural implications to make design relevant

I recently spoke and ran a workshop at UXUtSAV, the first and largest international UX event in India’s history. I was so honoured at being asked to present and although tiring came away very exhilarated and content. this is my third trip to Bangalore and each time I am always amazed at how intelligent, switched-on and willing to learn and feedback the creative business community are.

On this occasion I realised how different, culturally, India is from Europe and Asia. Apart from certain mannerisms, beliefs and the obvious cultural etiquette, I realised I had to adapt my presentations and workshops to cater to what is most culturally relevant and appropriate. My talk focussed on promoting UX to the higher echelons of the board room and being able to strategically influence the direction of a business using design techniques and approaches. I had to fine tune the presentation to allow for the fact that India has a steep and long history of design innovation which seems to be under going a renaissance right now. They more than most realise that they are moving quickly out of the services industry into on of product design and original creation. Startups are being invested in that are changing the world. The stereotypical image of Indian call centres is slowly being superceeded by one of innovation and brave risk taking.

My workshop focussed on how to disrupt the movie industry to make it more relevant in the near future. As we all know Bollywood is sacred and a huge industry second to only that of Hollywood. So to take on such a massive and influential, yet potentially realistic and culturally significant challenge was not one I could take lightly. Fortunately I had a day to talk to delegates and my peers to get a feedback on how to make certain amends to my workshop to make it more exciting, relevant and useful to those attending so that the key take aways and learnings ‘hit home’.

I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to share my thinking and techniques to make any company perform better and work on the most relevant competitor differentiating ideas. I have to say though they taught me as much about factoring cultural differences into presentation and workshops as I i did imparting my knowlefdeg. A big thank you to India and the UX Utsav organisers for an amazing experience.