Has anyone ever convinced a company to start a design dept?

Have any of you ever gone to an interview with the intention of convincing a heavy industrial company that Industrial Design is just as important as Engineering and that they ought to create a position for you to implement design thinking with colaboration with the engineering and marketing departments.

I’ve tried once or twice, but with no success. I think a better approach is to get them to hire a consultant and then after they see the advantages, offer to come in house. That’s kinda how I landed at Stelpro. They were using a consultant (not me) for a couple of years. When they realized that they could apply design much wider in the company if they had a designer in house, they hired me.

On a side note, I had some interviews when I was a new grad where the post description was “technical draftsman”, but when I showed my portfolio, the interviewers were asking each other, “Maybe we need more than a draftsman?”. I still think back to those interviews with pride, even though I wasn’t hired.

I’m not sure if I’d approach a heavy industrial company and try to convince them that ID is as important as engineering, because it may not. I work for an industrial company and ID is definitely not as important as engineering, but I play a key and necessary role.
I would approach their engineering, marketing, and sales teams and make a business case how ID can compliment their existing resources that would help deliver more innovative products that their customers want, faster. Who do you think you would report to in this company, Engineering or Marketing?

If Design doesnt report direct to the top (same as engineering, marketing), its not going to work. Viewing design as a sub-function of either is a recipe for disaster and a sign that the company doenst truly value design.

If an “industrial” company doesnt already have some design component, the chances of starting a new dept. would be slim to none, i’d guess. That being said, there are always opportunities.

More important, I would think in terms of approaching a company with a proposal to start a new dept would be your experience and what you can bring to the table. If your only experience is as a designer, with no management or business experience, i dont think it would happen. I’ve implemented new departments and thinking into companies in the past, and can tell you its a lot more than just hussling up a few designers and breaking out the markers. A top down strategy is equally important as are cross-dept. skills, human resource management and business thinking.


I definately agree about the experience aspects, Richard, and know that it would be naive to think otherwise.

Along the same line, how are design engineers different from industrial designers? I think my hope would have been to over time expose the design engineers I would be working with to design and sort of bring them to the dark side. Then using their experience in the company, push towards the devolopment of a true design department.

How many companies (non-consultancies) have VP’s of Industrial Design? 10 or 15? Are those that don’t incapable of producing good work? I think a company can value design if it has a robust design process and the discipline to follow it.

in my experience, there is a huge gap in thinking between engineers and designers. scope of thinking, parts vs. whole, plus a more user experienced perspective, IMHO.

A VP of design is not necessary, but for sure helps. at the very least, as mentioned, the design manager/director should report to the sr. VP or CEO to get things done.

most important is a company philosophy that values design. not something that can easily be put down on paper, but a looking at design as an integral component to business vs. a value added services slapped on/after a product would be a best way i could put it.

the key to making a design dept. successful (and enjoyable to work in) is viewing the design as part of a holistic process. not something that is done after the engineers and marketing people do their thing. design involves business, strategy and a different way of thinking, i believe.


Thanks for the advice, I formed the opinion that design is as important as engineering, but the importance is scalable, i.e. one designer ought to be as respected as one engineer.

I have to say I was surprised. The company, who are mainly chemical engineers, seems to be in the early stages of recognizing a need for design thinking and research to be competitive in their industry.

mr-914, I like the anecdote about the “maybe we need more of a drafter” I got what seemed like a pleasantly surprised, “we haven’t interviewed anyone else with a skill set like this.”

well neither have I…

this can also be a really difficult situation. i’ve experienced situations with ‘old school’ companies who realized to a degree that they needed design. Unfortunately they didn’t understand how large of a ripple effect it has. Truly participating in design changes all aspects of a business. That can be a very difficult transition to make.