angry designer

It was one of these design events, like many others in Germany: after the panellists had held their speeches, it was time for the Q&A! Finally, the audience had the chance to express their opinion, and some immediately took their chance. It was just a question of minutes for the question to be asked – the one on the status of design within companies!

And indeed, as expected it was posed by a true representative from the ‘design-tribe’: completely dressed in black, the bright-red coloured reading glasses hanging around his neck and his hair wild and grey (though, often they come in bald), he threw-in his opinion by starting off that it should be over now with the gobbledygook. “The real problem actually is somewhere else, it’s in the role of design within the company!” He continued his crusade, stating that these companies had no clue how to position and use design and that therefore it was no wonder that they’d produce crap all the time! – “They spice-up their crappy products with design as we do with our chilli!”

Being in full swing now, he continued by putting a question to the representatives from large corporations, of which there were three on the panel: “To you managers form the large companies: how long will it take till finally, a designer will be on your board? Because today there is total emptiness, they only think of profit – nobody thinks of good design!”, he closed off, heavily applauded by the other suffering comrades, who made up at least one-third of the attending listeners.

There it was again, the injustice: Design as a decoration, instead of being core; designers in the gutter, instead on-the-board; design as ‘good’, large companies as ‘bad’.

Somewhat clueless we, the three reps from the ‘large companies’, looked at each other in the hope that one would pick up the question from the we-are-not-taken-seriously-fraction.

In a glance, I thought to catch-up a grin on the face of our panel member from frog, who was slightly leaning back, in order to observe what would happen next. Being from a consultancy he knew exactly where the problem laid, but also that is was better not to answer on this one – no, this question was addressed to the designers employed and working within a company, and who were held like ‘slaves under horrible conditions’, far away from the centre of power – the board!

He had been there, in the board, though only as an external consultant, and therefore he exactly knew that it wasn’t all gold that was shining there. That’s why he was always amused when the question on the standing of design came up in this kind of panel discussions. For his agency it was irrelevant since it thrived well on the fact that a lot is unclear in the board – it meant business!

“What a bunch of sissies”, he replied to me after the event, when we had a beer in the hotel lobby, “instead of complaining on these events, they should hire up at a company and start to get things going!” Both of us shared the observation that there seems to be a sentiment to relate the standing of design within a company to the level of the hierarchical representation, it’s organizational power. But we also noted that there seem to be many designers who complain from the sideline but do little to carry design deep into the corporations. To foster design thinking and building a designful company through protesting way in front of the factory gates is well-meant, but fruitless. You have to do this within the factory gates, so the conclusion of our chat…

The question posed by the angry designer still wasn’t answered, so I felt obliged to pick it up. I started to mention the progress of my employer (large company) made over the years, in order to integrate design as a professional function, and that design was acknowledged as such by now. Also, I noted that the position of the Chief Design Officer had been installed, in order to clearly assign the governance of design to a corporate position – also this as a sign of design is taken seriously. Just like quality management, logistics, supply chain, customer service or sustainability: none of their ‘chiefs’ were present in the board, but all were acknowledged and been taken seriously.

So I rejected the angry designer’s plea for designers on the board, which caused a surprising roar amongst the suffering angry-designers community.

Design – that’s the outcome of a companies’ action, that what customers experience at every touchpoint! For design to positively contribute to a companies success, it needs a company-wide design thinking and mentality – a designful company.

It doesn’t need a designer on the board, it needs designers on board!

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