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2020 Report: Lead with Purpose

Lead with Purpose:
Design’s Central Role in Realizing Executive Vision

Nearly all professionals today recognize the burgeoning popularity of design thinking and generally accept that successful organizations—genuinely forward-looking ones—need design. Most organizations, though, have yet to make a place for design that engages its full power, not only at the initiative level, but also at the enterprise level. And most organizations have yet to determine everything they need to do to generate and sustain that power.

In the Institute of Design’s 2020 report, ID researchers assert that the value of design has already been demonstrated and focus instead on how design can deliver the greatest value to organizations: by making executive vision a reality.

They identify seven critical trends that will frame the future of organizations, underscore the importance of going beyond customer-centricity, introduce the Intent-to Effect-Pathway, clarify how to scale design operations, and introduce sample job descriptions for four future roles of designers.

ID student Prapti Jha in foreground with others viewing a presentation


headshot of Denis Weil


Denis Weil
Dean, Institute of Design
Chicago, Illinois
January 2020

A photo of a student at a whiteboard in a university classroom.

Step 1:
Ask, Listen, and Learn

Design offers great value to organizations. Recent reports from Fjord, InVision, and McKinsey have clearly and quantifiably demonstrated why design makes good business sense. At the Institute of Design, we wanted to take the next practical, aspirational step:

Design—not why, but how?

A photo of a brown-skinned girl with long hair and glasses.

Step 2:
Grasp Two Vital, Urgent Truths About Design—and What They Mean for Your Organization

Setting off on a new pathway requires conviction and informed leadership. What are the realities driving necessary change in your organization? The Lead with Purpose report identifies two essential truths about design today. Grasping them will help you make the most of design’s role in your organization—and give you a competitive edge.

Faculty building out the End of year Show at ID.

Step 3:
Map Your Pathway from Intent to Effect

Strategists have come to talk about “design thinking,” with its roots in human-centered design, as a way of reorienting the organization toward customer-centricity, but really every practice within an organization is a way of thinking. Design is thinking, just as strategy is thinking.

We don’t interpret our findings as calls for any expertise to overwhelm any other. As you will see in this report, you don’t need to shift everyone to thinking design (or design thinking) so much as integrate design competencies throughout your organization in order to achieve a desired effect.

A diagram illustrating The Flywheel of Design.

Step 4:
Scale Your Design Operations

So far, we’ve addressed the question of why and how the design function and roles within organizations must change and adapt to address the increasingly complex challenges of today.

The next question: how can we scale design for maximum value?

A photo of a man with a baseball cap on writing on a whiteboard during a workshop at ID.

Step 5:
Remove All Barriers and Pave the Intent-to-Effect Pathway Within Your Organization

Expanding design’s role to provide efficacious leadership on the Intent-to-Effect Pathway requires the adoption of new behaviors and competencies—always an exercise in courage.

A photo of student with brown skin and dark hair participating in a workshop at ID at IIT.

Step 6:
Lead the Way

We can’t offer you an exact prescription for how to structure, plan, or hire for the new era of design in your organization. Much will depend on where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you see the winds of change blowing in your industry.

Right now design is an underused asset within organizations. To achieve greater scale and impact, design must mature in step with the trends and opportunities discussed in this report. Design needs to become accountable for a functional outcome of the organization.

A panel of speakers at the Institute of Design in Chicago.

Research Methods & Team

The 2020 Lead with Purpose report was the outcome of 51 one-on-one, 60-minute interviews with US design and/or business practitioners. Find more information about our researchers, research participants, research sponsors, and sources.

Download the Reports