Design has finally gotten its due. For years, designers complained that they needed to be brought into the C-suite to make strategic decisions alongside CEOs and CMOs. That has happened over the past five years, as 40 of the top 100 companies hired a chief design officer (CDO). But now there’s a new problem. According to a massive new study conducted by McKinsey, just about nobody knows what a chief design officer is actually supposed to do. McKinsey analyzed 1,700 companies and conducted interviews with 200 senior design leaders and 100 CEOs. The key discovery? A few companies have empowered design leaders in the C-suite (and previous research shows that design-led companies have 32% more revenue than other companies). But at most companies, heads of design are ineffectively, and confusingly, integrated into executive teams.
“We found that, yes, people were put into place, but they’re not necessarily being put into a successful [role],” says Benedict Sheppard the partner at McKinsey Design who co-authored the study. “Design is like a strategy that seems to mean 100 things to 100 people. The all-encompassing term of design we see is understanding user needs and creating solutions for user needs . . . [but] many CEOs [we interviewed] are still using the 1980s definition of color, material, and finish.”
The metrics are damning: Only one-third of CEOs could detail what their CDO oversaw at the company. In other words, 66% of CEOs couldn’t say what their CDO actually did, or how that success should be measured. No wonder only 10% of CEOs reported that a senior designer played a meaningful role in the company’s strategy. And only 17% of design leaders thought they were in the right position to give a company their full value. McKinsey concludes that 90% of companies aren’t using design talent to their full potential.