3M is a company committed to great design, and they back it up in their organization. Eric Quint has served as Vice President and Chief Design Officer for 3M since April 2013. He says that one of the key roles of a CDO is to ‘design the company.’

At the designThink2018 conference in Austin, Eric spoke about this critical role he says is key for all Chief Design Officers. In short: it’s all about brand experience. Minneapolis-based 3M is a $30 billion company with 90,000 employees around the world. Founded as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing company in 1902, 3M struggled at first mining stone from quarries for use in grinding wheels. As the fledgling company struggled with its product set, luckily its management supported its workers efforts to innovate to make things better. Such application of science and experience to improve life became 3M’s core business.

When Eric joined 3M, this history was evident. The work of the company was its brand, and the brand spoke the promise so clearly to Eric. Not long later, “Science. Applied to Life.” became 3M’s new corporate brand platform (3M Corporation, 2015). Many wondered why ‘innovation’ was not a part of the brand platform as innovation was core to what makes 3M so good at what it does. Simply, Eric explained, innovation is an approach, but it is not the brand.

Between 2010 and 2017, 3M’s brand rating moved from #90 to #58 (Interbrand, 2018). Eric asserts that the best global brands are design-led brands, and each has elevated the role of design in the enterprise as a fundamental strength for all parts of the business. He says that his commitment at 3M was to have design squarely in the middle of things than to have the Design function be in the corner designing provocative products. To pull it all together, the company opened at its Minnesota headquarters a Design Center (Applied) to match up with its 3M Science Center (Science) and 3M Innovation (Life) Center.

Eric is clear that design thinking at 3M is made up of a human-centered mindset, a design thinking skill set, and a designer’s toolset that empowers the people of 3M to drive value. The company looks to connect business thinking and design thinking which is all about bringing forth diversity of thinking and of thought. Key to that work is coupling these types of skills:

  • Analytical + Creative
  • Strategic + Visionary
  • Linear + Iterative
  • Quant + Qual
  • Data focus + Needs focus

As was evident to me, getting designers to speak the language of business kills the language of design. When I shared that with Eric, he nodded, rolled his eyes, and said, “Forget about it.”

3M Corporation. (2015, March 13). Introducing 3M Science. Applied to Life.™New Global Brand Platform Connects Customers with the World of 3M Science [press release]. Retrieved from http://news.3m.com/press-release/company/introducing-3m-science-applied-life

Best Global Brands 2017 Rankings. (2018). Retrieved from http://interbrand.com/best-brands/best-global-brands/2017/ranking/

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