Why You Need a Chief Design Officer
July 23, 2019 | Innovation
by ExperiencePoint

Why You Need a Chief Design OfficerIf you don’t have a chief design officer (CDO) in the c-suite, it might be time to add a new seat to that table.

The chief design officer role took off in 2015, as business leaders tried to emulate the innovation happening at companies like Apple and Facebook. Over the course of a few years PepsiCo, Hyundai, 3M, USAA and many others added CDOs to their leadership team. Each new appointment won lots of media attention, and many of these brand new CDOs became media darlings, winning positions on Fortune’s 40 under 40 lists, and Fast Company’s compilations of the Most Creative People in Business.

It’s rare that a new corporate title generates this much buzz, but in this case it was warranted. The CDO trend reflects the growing recognition that design and design thinking have become essential to good business strategy. As this Lockwood Resources article points out, “most CEO’s want to transform their organizations, and they know they need innovation to get them there.”

What a CDO Does

Many companies start this journey by building small insulated design teams or departments, but they quickly realize that design thinking isn’t just the purview of designers. To be innovative, these companies have to rebuild their corporate culture around strategies that drive innovative thinking, and empower all employees to identify real world problems or challenges that can be solved using these tools.

As they made these changes, the need for a CDO naturally emerged.

Ideal CDOs bring a unique combination of creativity, leadership, and design experience to the c-suite. In these roles, they help everyone on the leadership team understand how and why they need to engage consumers in new ways and what this looks like. They are often charged with elevating design to a business endeavor, and driving the culture change needed to help employees identify and create solutions that consumers really want.

If you are still questioning whether your firm is ready for a CDO, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do we really want to be customer centric? Lots of business leaders say customer-centricity is important, but if you mean it you need someone in charge of driving this shift in thinking, and a CDO is the perfect candidate. Design thinking is all about putting customers at the center of decision-making, engaging with them in new and innovative ways, and making their feedback an essential part of the product design process.

  2. Do you believe innovation is important to your future success? If your answer is yes, then you need c-suite leaders who can make it happen. A CDO is uniquely positioned to infuse the culture with a more creative mindset, to support innovative projects, and to protect employees’ freedom to pursue projects that will deliver on the company’s innovation goals. 73% of innovation and R&D executives say leadership support is the biggest enabler of innovation. Otherwise, “being innovative” can easily become that thing that executives talk about in employee meetings but never really make happen.

  3. Do you want leaders who can balance creative thinking with quantifiable results? A good CDO will bring that exact talent set to the table. A good CDO can bridge the gap between business strategies and innovative thinking that so often prevents traditional companies from truly embracing the creativity they need to get ahead.

Every company’s journey to a CDO is different. While you may not be ready to create a new c-level role yet, the fact that you are (still) reading this article suggests that you see a need in your leadership team for a creative visionary. Whether you add a new member to the leadership team, or educate them all on why they need to prioritize design thinking as a business strategy, you will be setting your organization up for a more agile and innovative future.


Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.