Get on board to push design up management hierarchy

For years – since the UK design business was big enough to consider itself an industry sector – there’s been consensus among creative companies that ‘the client’ needs to be ‘educated’ into appreciating the merits of using good design.

Arguments meant to sway their minds have increasingly focused on the bottom line, building on the success of the Design Business Association’s design effectiveness programme manifested in the annual International Design Effectiveness Awards. Following the DBA’s example, effectiveness in terms of commercial benefit has been the rallying cry of many a design body – and something we might expect incoming British Design & Art Direction chief executive Michael Hockney to champion, given his ad industry record. It’s an argument that makes sense to clients across the board.

While all this has been going on, concerns have also been aired that design isn’t taken seriously enough by clients, even regular buyers of design. The whinge is that design is dealt with lower down the management hierarchy than, say, advertising. This has been a real frustration, especially when we can all point to companies – often small entrepreneurial concerns – that are commercially successful largely because of a top-down approach to design. Dyson Appliances and JCB spring immediately to mind.

How refreshing therefore to find the Design Council making a concerted effort to get design into the boardroom as part of its on-going Design Led Business 24/7 programme. This initiative has placed designers and design-aware industrialists in client companies as troubleshooters, and raised issues relating to the creative process. As part of that initiative, last week the council ran a seminar for people involved in the programme to discuss making designers non-executive board directors within client companies. Astute design groups see the benefit of bringing financial and legal advisors on board in this way, so why not the other way round?

What better time to air the topic than in the wake of the Higgs Report urging companies to broaden their management experience by taking on more non-executive directors – who join the board on a part-time basis, though play a full role in decision-making. As Design Council chief executive David Kester explains, it’s about ‘pull not push’.

What better way to get not just the design message across to managements, but also show its benefits in a real life context. And, given design’s wealth of talent, there should be no end of candidates fit for the job.

If the Design Council’s point hits home, it could prove a nice little earner for those involved and broaden their experience in return.

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