The Rise of the Chief Design Officer


Stuart Chapman


Categories Uncategorized

How the CDO position signals the increasingly significant role of design in business

CDO carousel 2

Apple’s (former) SVP of Design, Jony Ive, was promoted to Chief Design Officer this week. The consensus of opinion is that this structural adjustment is readying the company for a transition in its design leadership; preparation for a post-Ive Apple, in other words.

Any management shuffle at Apple is watched keenly, but it’s that new title – Chief Design Officer – which makes this an especially interesting change. The Chief Design Officer (CDO) role is positioned right next to boardroom mainstays like CFOs and, of course, CEOs.

And Apple’s not the only one to make this move. Ive is the latest of a slew of CDO appointments in major corporations: PepsiCo, Johnson & Johnson, Philips and Hyundai have all created new CDO positions during the past year.

This is reflective of a significant change in the way business is thinking about design. For too many years, design was considered decorative; agencies brought in as hired guns to make a ‘pretty logo’, or some packaging that ‘stands out’. But the corporate world is waking up to the fundamental role design plays in bringing real, tangible business success.

Take two of the biggest success stories of recent years: Uber and Airbnb. Both have enjoyed meteoric growth, due in no small part to central importance they place on the quality of the user experience. Each and every part of that experience – from the ads to the apps to the service itself – is carefully designed, and consequently demonstrates a level of care, cohesion and communicative clarity that many brands lack. It results in a seamless, even joyous brand experience for its users – and underpins real financial growth.

To create this quality of experience, both brands have sharp focus on design. Design is woven into almost every brand touchpoint, and is therefore intrinsic to consumers’ brand experience.

As the digital revolution gathers pace, so the breadth and scope of brand touchpoints increases. Where previously a brand’s touchpoints might have been limited to a piece of packaging and some ATL, now it extends to countless micro-interactions via an array of digital and media channels – all of which require design consideration.

This shift has prompted an elevation of design’s place in business. As Forbes recently described, “the idea of design is being baked into every aspect of corporate life”. The rise of the CDO means that, reflective of its increased importance through all levels of business, design is now being afforded a seat at the boardroom table to match.

Design has been central to Apple since its inception, so it’s no surprise that its role is being recognised with an appropriate title. Perhaps what’s surprising is that it took them so long to catch up.