Illustration of CEO CFO CMO CDO
September 20th, 2016

Time to Add a CDO (Chief Design Officer)?

Almost all companies say they focus on the customer. But their internal performance measurements and budgets tell another story.

The Design Management Institute’s Design Value Index shows that design-driven companies have maintained a significant stock market advantage. In fact, they outperformed the S&P by 228% over the past 10 years. Prompting the researchers to comment that, “The most innovative companies in the world have one thing in common: they use design as an integrative resource to innovate more efficiently and successfully.”

This is why leading companies such as Phillips, Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Samsung, and Nokia have added a Chief Design Officer (CDO) to their senior management teams.

DMI Design-Centric Index

“The big difference with design driven companies is that they go beyond understanding what customers want to truly uncovering why they want it.” (source: McKinsey, 2015)

Truly knowing your customer is about exposing their unmet needs and that involves careful listening. Most of the talented designers with whom I’ve worked ask thoughtful questions, listen, observe, and then distill what they have gleaned into a clearly defined strategy.

“The 20th century marketing perspective of making people want things has transitioned to a 21st century approach of making things people want, and design—with its focus on users—is the route through which brands will either succeed or fail.” (source: Design Council UK, 2015)

There are a host of benefits to adding a CDO to your advisory team.

  • Designers are trained to put themselves in the shoes of your customer.
  • They bring customer understanding and empathy to your business.
  • They transform the focus from product criteria and design to the entire user experience.
  • They can integrate this customer focus through the entire company.

An experienced CDO will be an advocate for brand consistency. It is important for brands to have a consistent and compelling voice across all consumer touch points. What we’re talking about is bringing design-centric thinking to your strategic leadership team in a way that will create a positive business evolution.

Design can be the deciding factor in an organization’s relevance. That’s because design thinking places emphasis not on creating products and then selling them, but rather on identifying what customers want and need, and then developing the best products and experiences to meet that need.

Today’s consumers are savvy to long-standing marketing approaches. They tune out a lot of traditional marketing and advertising. What captures them are well-designed products and services that offer new experiences.

When you start looking for a CDO, whether internally or externally, be prepared to step outside your comfort zone. Your best candidates will be designers with broad experience in various design disciplines, consumer empathy driven by curiosity, an ability to interweave customer focus with corporate strategy, and a gift for storytelling. This last talent can take people through meaningful and powerful experiences that change their perceptions.

While CDOs will have an entirely different skill set and perspective from your current team of advisors, you will want to ensure that they have seat at the table where strategic decisions are made. These invaluable advisors should be your customers’ primary advocate. They are the stewards who will align business strategy and deliver value while keeping the customer experience top of mind.

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