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Step 4: Scale

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?

How Can We Scale Design for Maximum Value?

Some design-led organizations have already started to find ways to scale design for optimal value. For everyone else, we suggest you embrace the Flywheel of Design identified in the Lead with Purpose report.

For those not familiar with it, the flywheel is a business concept initially introduced by Jim Collins. The premise of the flywheel is simple. A flywheel is an incredibly heavy wheel that takes great effort to move. Keep pushing and the flywheel builds momentum. Keep pushing, and eventually it starts to help turn itself and generate its own momentum—and that’s when a company goes from good to great.

The Flywheel of Design illustrates the core and consistent actions that an organization needs to take to support the scaling of design operations within the business. When an organization feeds one part of its Flywheel of Design it creates cascading effects into another part of the flywheel, ultimately supporting design to rise as an indispensable function of the organization.

The Flywheel of Design Has Four Parts

A diagram illustrating the Flywheel of Design. Institute of Design at IIT.

1. Design Leadership

Despite all the evidence that design offers high value, many organizations still do not meet the essential criterion of supporting it. Embracing design as an essential practice must be a top priority at the highest level of the organization. What do acknowledgment and advocacy of design’s value mean in practice?

  • Paying more than lip service to the value of design, the CEO promotes design as a strategy and a competency across the organization.
  • The Chief Design Officer has the ear and full support of the CEO and ensures that design is an enterprise-wide competency used to fulfill the strategic vision of the organization.
  • The organization has a funding structure that fully supports the success of the design function by tying its resource budgets directly to the business units they serve.

2. Problem-Driven Pathway

Our ID Pathways research clarified the need for organizations to pursue the development of new offerings, with either a solution-focused or a problem-driven approach.

When an organization engages a solution-focused approach to the creation of new offerings, most typically the executive team has already defined the why, how, and what of a new vision for the organization. For instance, the organization has sought buy-in and alignment for a concept before that concept has even been tested with customers.

A solution-focused approach yields little opportunity to deviate from the goal of bringing an already defined, specific product to market. The organization operates based on the assumption that the way they’ve articulated the product is the best way to deliver on its visionary intent.

In contrast, when an organization engages a problem-driven approach, it remains open as the team navigates the Intent-to-Effect Pathway. In this environment, the vision set by executive leadership becomes the North Star articulating what an organization wants to achieve (its intent). But knowing how to best make that vision real is left to other functions of the organization, as facilitated by design.

Companies operating with a problem-driven focus are open to hearing of and responding to necessary pivots for successfully meeting the goal. Success is defined, first and foremost, by solving the problem of realizing the vision. And the team leads the development process with an iterative “means to the end, end to the means” mindset, as noted in the Intent-to-Effect Pathway diagram. This mindset helps the organization correct course as needed, ensuring that solutions emerging in response to that vision are indeed meeting customer/market need, as opposed to delivering on top-down strategic visions that may or may not have purpose or relevance among the markets targeted.

3. Generalized Design Competency

The popularity of “design thinking” in organizations has been essential to build awareness of and appreciation for the value of design. Though it’s not always executed to the proper standards of designers, design thinking has generally been effective for introducing non-designers to new ways of thinking about problems and how to solve them. It has also helped to create a common language for design, which has been helpful in supporting cross-functional alignment and buy-in around the Intent-to-Effect Pathway within organizations.

Designers need not fear that the proliferation of “design thinking” diminishes their roles. Rather, the act of building competency in this way is an essential empowering step to prepare employees—across the enterprise—for a new collaborative and cross-functional way of working toward a common goal.

The Pi-Shaped Designer diagram by ID at IIT.

4. Specialized Design Competency

The complex needs of today demand that designers enhance their skills to include both a broader and deeper set of competencies. Indeed, the nature of work today and in the future demands that every design-trained professional enter the workforce with “π-shaped” skills. It’s no longer sufficient to be an accomplished designer. A designer must also have skills in business and technology that match the needs and requirements of the role they play in the Intent-to-Effect Pathway.

In the future we’re going to be π-shaped with a lot of other kinds of disciplines, like more business knowledge, business strategy, or technical expertise. We’ll have a wider set of tools because we’ll need to have those in order to be most effective. We all need to be more expert in change management and business process design, in addition to what we understand about users.

In Summary

The Lead with Purpose report recommends that designers:

  • Embody the six core competencies of design: storytelling, prototyping, foresight, facilitation, collaboration, and systems thinking.
  • Demonstrate business acumen, including an understanding of the industry in which they are working and its competitive marketplace, business literacy, strategy, operations, funding structure, and value and impact metrics.
  • Exhibit technology competency, including an understanding of the digital/ omni-channel experience, content strategy, data integration, new technologies (for example, AI and automation), and ethics.
  • Have depth in two or more specialty disciplines (change management, diversity and inclusion, interaction design, product design, sustainability, research, strategy, user experience, visual design, etc.) This range of abilities will enable them to become the kind of “π-shaped” designer that today’s environment requires and create the career trajectory of their choosing.

We know that designers must work from an awareness of the seven trends that are driving priorities and shaping the future of design over the next five years, and they must demonstrate a grasp of the two truths—maintaining integrity and pursuing seamlessness in support of that integrity. But none of that insight will matter if they can’t contribute a robust set of design competencies to their organization.


RELATED: 4 Design Roles to Help You Chart Your Organization’s Future

“In an organization where its leaders don’t understand design or don’t value it, it just won’t get resourced. We still have to follow random directives from corporate overlords. We still have to run around like chickens with our heads cut off doing things for no good reason. We don’t have that discipline of, ‘Here’s our vision. We’re going to pursue it. I don’t care what those other people are doing. We’re pursuing our vision.’”

“We typically come up with an idea at the beginning of a project, even before the project has started. We seek approval for that concept and then we confuse that solution with what our consumers want or need. We need to allow for design to do what it does best, which is understanding problems and people and, from there, figuring out what the solution is. This is what is means to be problem-driven versus solution-focused.”

“There’s a concern within the design community that the democratization of design means that design will lose control throughout the process. But the democratization of design is a good thing because it makes business more human—it means we get less crap and more things that are valuable and meaningful.”