The past decade has seen a steady increase in corporations embracing design. Many a Buzzword Bingo match has been won by someone dropping the term “design thinking” into the conversation, an action which elicits violent nodding from the wisest in attendance.

Often times the design thinking is sequestered in the R&D department and/or the Innovation office. A few companies have formalized their commitment to design thinking with a Chief Design Officer. Eric Quint is one of these CDOs, serving Minneapolis-based 3M in this role since April 2013. His LinkedIn profile reads,

“My passion is to bring a creative culture and design leadership to a next level of excellence through the creation of great ideas, managing collaborative creativity and open innovation engagements, excite main business stakeholders by design and realizing successful design solutions in to brand experiences that improves people’s life’s and result in new value creation. Design as an engine for change and innovation that inspire people around the globe and relate to them” (2018).

At the designThink2018 conference in Austin, Eric shared his view of the role of Chief Design Officer. He sees people with such titles needing to focus on six (6) key elements:

  1. Designing the design function
  2. Design the company
  3. Educate about design
  4. Creative direct to the company
  5. Orchestrate consistency of design
  6. Corporate rebel…with a purpose

Designers and those of a design mind will not be surprised with the first two elements he pointed to: (1) design the Design function and (2) design the company. Leaving design to be applied merely with products and/or services is pure folly. Design, Eric and many speakers at the conference would assert, cannot be just something a part of the organization does. It must be at the heart of what the organization is. A Chief Designer must take having the executive shape the organization intentionally to be a match (e.g., operationally, structurally, culturally) for what the market requires. The same is true for the Design function within that company. Anything less is not doing one’s job as a Chief Design Officer.

As strategy is much about what a company will not do vs. what it will do, a Chief Design Officer is there to break apart or interrupt what is already there. Eric calls it “being a corporate rebel … with a purpose,” a phrase that elicits a sense of responsible and for-the-good-of-the-order mutiny. Any designer will tell you that great design is about iteration; breaking the patterns of what has been are done so in service of benefiting and profiting from what could be.

Retrieved from on 4 June 2018

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