getting others to understand design

I have recently been assigned to a new role in my company. Basically, my new role is to get the business people to understand what we do. In a company of thousands, there are only 4 designers (program is only 2 years old). We are constantly being undermined by the bottom line. The company has been completely reliant on vendors throughout history, and they seems to have a hard time letting that go. Most of the time, our entire product run will be dropped on a whim because there is no faith in the department.

Ideally, I am trying to educate these business people on the full potential of our department. I have begun collecting material to write a design brief to help them understand, and lay out a path to our goals as a design department.

I am wondering what your experience has been in trying to change the minds of those run only by numbers and the bottom line? How have you guys dealt with situations where there is not much faith in a department, even though we have proved that the department has a great ROI?

I think there’s a thread on here about tangible ROI on design. Some group of design advocates made a list of companies that do design right and tracked their stocks. I’m too tired to find it though, need some sleep after late-night portfolio sesssions.

Been there! Exact same situation.

Bottom line: you can’t do it without an executive champion, and you can’t do it without a small “win” that can be socialized.
Since your team is new, I presume there is a champion? They need to be at least a VP, and do the following:

  • Educate their peers about the value of design (obviously they have to get it)
  • Fight for resources (your growth)
  • Remove barriers (organizational structure, culture etc.)

As for educating them…

  1. I highly recommend buying TWO COPIES of the following books, one for yourself, and one for your champion:
  • Institutionalization of Usability (literally a how-to for your situation)
  • The Inmates are Running the Asylum
  1. You should also recommend that your champion attend some key design conferences with you. If they really believe in making your group succeed, they’ll invest the time! Take a look at courses and conferences by:
  • DMI (Design Management Institute)
  • IDSA Regional or National Conference
  • UX Week or Managing UX (by Adaptive Path)
  • Courses and seminars by Human Factors International
  1. Lastly, you might consider bringing in a consultant to work with you and senior management to talk about how to set your group up to have measurable, strategic results. I know a few failed corporate design groups that were “reborn” in a big way after doing this.

Good luck, you’re in a very important position right now and have everything to gain if it works out!

“Share prices of companies using design effectively have outperformed the [stock] index by 200 per cent”

You might want to check out the UK design council web site as well. I was skeptical since there isn’t really a design policy group in the US, but they exist to champion design within companies and convince them that it’s in their best interests.

Lots of good stuff like this can be found there, like this → Delivering competitive advantage through design

you might find this article helpful, it’s from Fast Company’s Masters of Design page. David Butler reflects on how he got design and brand unity to be understood at Coke (and there’s a few digs at Arnell+Pepsi in there, too). I read it a little while ago, but his main point was basically to avoid using the word “design” whenever you talk to someone in a suit. As you say, you are constantly being undermined by the bottom line, David says that the way he got buy-in at a multi-billion dollar, international company is by saying, “this is what I’m going to do to help you sell more stuff.” anyways, i’ll leave it to you to give it a quick read. hope it helps!

I think this is key. The initiative and support needs to come from top down, esp. in a large company where design is a minority. The idea of a single win, or sharp edge of the wedge is also a good one. Furthermore, building relationship also from the bottom up help as well. Find one person in each department, regardless of their position who you can get on board and help spread the word. Even if they don’t have decision making power, have a cross-team of invested people always helps the cause.

Also, it’s important to know when you are fighting a losing battle or one for lipservice. To be honest not all companies can or will embrace design and unfortunately the overall company mentality is one that is often difficult to change. I know, i’ve been in that position several times before.

best of luck,


I think CG and R make great points here. I have been in this same situation and as R said you not only need to get others on board but also know how to pick your battles. When I first started in my role I have now I was the first ID guy they had ever hired. I had a boss that really did not understand ID and a marketing team that thought design could only be achieved from the outside. Sense then my boss has moved on, we have hired more design resources, we have hired a CEO that believes more in design and I personally have taken the time to go over and beyond to prove not only myself but the value of ID.

I have found that in most of these situations the one group that you need in your court is marketing. Find key person in marketing that may be in charge on a brand or an account that you work on and really get to know them and show them what design can do for them and how it can save them time and money. You will be surprised that once you get one of them in “your tribe” they will all want to join. This not only helps design in your group, but also helps your career as you look like the champion of the relationship.

As far as picking your battles…You cannot win them all and you do not want to win them all. You could spend all your time fighting fires and in the long run you will not get anything done. You will also create enemies instead of meaningful relationships. You also will not replace outside agency’s and vendors, but you can start managing them. What you want is for there to be a balance of both. Getting work from the outside is not a bad thing as it brings in new prospectives and also resources that you may not have internally

Thanks a lot guys. This is exactly the sort of info that I was looking for! read the Coke article last month, but decided i should go back ad highlight some good points in it. I know it is going to be a long and hard battle, as there are certain people (unfortunately the decision makers) that are pretty set in their ways. I have started thinking about who I can start getting on my side to help enforce the idea of using our in house department. have already ordered the books as well, so hopefully I can learn a thing or two with those.