The Big Design Freak-Out!

A rare good piece from FC, postulating how CDO type roles failed to build for the long term; when coupled with macroeconomic factors it meant the roles (and the paychecks) flowed back to more established disciplines.

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Thank you for sharing it here. I’m still reading it properly before I reply. Too much of a minefield strewn with eggshells to simply jump in with commentary. Mind you, that could be the downside of the doctoral studies

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Thanks for this. I saw it making the rounds yesterday on LinkedIn and I wanted to share in the “Liability calling yourself a Designer” thread but couldn’t find the link.

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Had no idea who the author was, but sounds like he’s been around and knows the score. Fabricant / Replicant haha cool designed name.

I liked the ending:
“ But this class of leaders, for the most part, left that identity behind when they embarked on their corporate journeys. As Powell put it, “As we get into these roles, our tendency is to deprecate our designerly qualities rather than maintaining or elevating them. That is where the imposter syndrome comes through. [It is] uncanny how frequently that comes up with folks that I talk to.”

Think that’s been a more common theme around here lately too - almost like “it’s ok to call yourself a stylist, so be good at it”.

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:rofl: fame is fleeting

Robert Fabricant was VP Creative at Frogdesign before he got all Design Imperialism (see which I keep finding referenced in academic articles much to my self-referential horror)

I mean, why would you write this?

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I do get the impression that a lot of the design leaders mentioned in this piece are not coming from an Industrial Design / Product (physical) discipline. Design as Creative ie. marketing or UI/UX is a different animal.

Also, is anyone shedding a tear for IDEO who turned themselves into a “we do everything” consultancy?

Also, so many of these corporations and consultancies have sooooo many people. Design Director or Creative Director sounds important, but when you realize there may be 10 or 100 of them at a place like Frog or Nike it’s no longer the pinnacle it seems. It’s not The Creative Director. It’s A Creative Director. Loosing a few isn’t the end of the world or a mass exit of design at scale.

I think as designers transition intro leadership roles, it’s not that Design necessarily deprecated, it’s just that other qualities lead. Strategy, leadership, business.

Anyone at a senior design role like VP/CDO or even Design Director is likely doing more emails than sketches but that’s not necessarily bad or I would guess unexpected.

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How’s the ad exec as CEO working out for them?

I think these 3 quotes pretty much sum up the article:

“When I came into healthcare, not a single hospital was doing patient journeys. I think we did a good job baking the fundamentals in.”

“There are many engineers who are fantastic designers now, just out of the serendipity of using good products,” says Petroff. “They make good [design] decisions.”

"As leaders we need to learn how to be really awesome stewards with resources. We need to defend the investment in design with total clarity. That part is new.”

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That first one makes me think design falls victim to positioning itself as too front-end, and not tied to the immediacy of operations. Set it and forget it, been there done that, fixed everything here and moved on. Seems like a continuous symbiosis would be helpful.

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Here’s one set of thoughts and three related older articles I’ve got open as I continue to ponder Fabricant’s words

Thanks for posting. I was the OP on the “liability” post, and the article pretty much sums up everything I’ve been seeing, and at times directly hearing, from the corporate world. I’m very curious to read the author’s follow-up piece.

One small passage I take massive issue with is the idea that,

…we neglected to mention that designers, by nature, are pretty lousy managers, and there was little opportunity or support to develop those skills in boutique practice.

I think this is a common fallacy that designers have been told, usually by other designers, so many times they actually believe it. Creatives - be they designers, artists, musicians…whatever - are no more or less likely to be effective leaders than the rest of the population, but some hold so dearly the idea of the tortured, misunderstood artist that we label ourselves as unfit for leadership and inevitably present our profession in that manner.


+many upvotes for all this, thank you


Also see MBA+Design dual degree’s emergence at IIT-ID

December 2004 (*shrieks in 20 &^^% years!!!)

I’ve read through everything and now am referring to the OP article

He’s launching a new campaign because Tim can’t, he did design thinking

the campaign launches a “whole new way” to access “world class design leadership” when you need it; how you need it; and for as long as you need it

Steve Portigal and I called this the Dream Team approach back in Nov 2005 (Core’s taken it down for reasons I will not go into out here, I wish men would get therapy & my name is spelt wrong of course) but here’s a Wayback machine link


Archetype 3: DreamTeam
Not quite a hybrid, but pulling in some of the best of both worlds, is the DreamTeam, or Hollywood Model. This is where a team of specialists—often including employees of the hiring firm, the design firm, or experienced outside freelancers—are put together to take on a specific project. Collectively, they possess the expertise appropriate to the design challenge, and are handpicked in a very calculated way. The idea here is that you assemble the best on a project-specific basis, and when the project’s done, they’re done (with the implication that you may reassemble the team together on another project if the results were successful). This approach (not for beginners!) is very targeted, and recognizes that as design moves up the value chain and integrates more and more with corporate strategy at the core level, it becomes a specialty, not a commodity. And as product and service offerings become more complex, you may find that the best route to innovation is a customized route. Specialty areas can include research, new product definition, innovation planning or the application of design thinking to business processes.

Davis has had great success with this method, thinking of the design concern as “design groups” as opposed to “design firms”: “I will find an individual designer who has expertise, and say ‘I’ve got this work, you’re an expert, how much would it cost for you to assemble a team and get you into our offices?’ It’ll be one invoice to the main contact. This approach is extremely non-traditional, but I feel confident in it.”

Indeed, you may be working with a DreamTeam without even knowing it: Often a design firm will have freelancers (or outside expert consultants) on staff, attending pitch meetings and concept presentations as if they were full-time staff. This isn’t necessarily disingenuous, however, and may benefit you and your project substantially, in that these ringers are there for a reason: they’re good.

Also, (and particularly with larger design consultancies), don’t assume that the people who are pitching you are the ones who will be working on your project—the dreaded “A-team/B-team” scenario. Brentham has some good advice here: “Ask to see the individual portfolios of the design team assigned to your project, as the portfolio you may be shown could be of past work by other teams, or of the firm as a whole not the specific designer or team on your project.”

You can see the clues in the Nov 2023 IDEO layoffs article

Ideo appears to be moving toward a model that’s used by the Kyu consulting company, Atölye, where instead of staffing a project with a team of Ideo designers, a single full-time employee might assemble a small external team for each project—a team built of former Ideo employees who have already been asked to enlist and other freelancers, according to former employees familiar with the plan.


This shift would make Ideo “a matchmaker of clients who need large design projects [that] pieces together design teams from a freelance network so they don’t need significant overhead,”

and crucially

Another one pointed to the synergy of this freelance strategy with Neol, which is ostensibly an on-demand creative-solutions network, backed by Kyu, and which Tim Brown serves as chief evangelist.<----

What Robert’s involvement in this I don’t know however based on the observations I’ve been making in my own sector of specialization, Dalberg Design probably cannot keep up the revenue stream for his salary given the massive cuts in development funding from the two biggies - the UK and USAID. Plus right now France has pulled out of West Africa but you don’t need my geopolitical analysis of the operating environment for new product development introductions which will and do influence PD strategy from market launch through to sales and customer service. This shift in development aid funding landscape was triggered by the pandemic years. There’s a lot more here including the rise of self-determined innovation driven transformations over the classic white man swooping down with solutions. That era is firmly over. Hence the pivot, as evidenced by the existence of this article (which I now learn is intended to be a series, which set my spidey sense tingling that we’re seeing a new campaign - the pattern matches the strategic positioning of suitable articles by unrelated to Tim/Ideo people that led up to the big splash of design thinking in 2005-2007 promoted heavily by the then Managing Editor of BusinessWeek Bruce Nussbaum, carefully nurtured as a relationship by IDEO leadership for a decade prior iirc - don’t ask me where and how I heard that, it could have been anywhere, we BiPoCs are invisible peoples serving dinner drinks).

Naturally, I could be wrong, but the hints are scattered throughout Robert’s article:

waah we can’t lead don’t want to manage ops and can we have fun with crayons again plis??

yes, says design deployment in a distributed horizontal federated fashion fairy, yes, yes you can

just let us do all the admin and boring stuff for you

you just go out and be a Dream Team once again

we’ll make sure you can pay the mortgate AND the tuition fees

not to mention healthcare

//my two cents. Me, I saw this crash in my revenue stream coming as far back as 2018. My transformation journey is almost complete and my future doctoral thesis will provide a well-researched peer-reviewed platform for a whole new design service for planetary sustainable futures. I went back to school in Fall 2019 at age 53

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