Why organizations need a Chief Design Officer?

Nov - 20

Why organizations need a Chief Design Officer?

There are a variety of roles in any organization for specific predefined tasks. This enables organizations to engage right skills for specific areas of operations.

The Business owners would define the objective of the business they want to pursue. For example; we want to manufacture and sell two-wheelers in the market, or we want to offer IT skills to companies to increase their efficiency, or we want to cook and serve food in our outlets.

The C-level executives are primarily decision makers in any organization, owning a variety of decision-making areas.

CEO is like a captain of this ship, who is responsible for defining where to go, define the course of the path, and actions on an ongoing basis. He practically commands the steering wheel of this ship.

Similarly, the CFO steers the financial decisions, CMO owns the marketing related strategies and decisions, and so on. Depending on the nature and volume of business, Companies have a variety of C-level positions in their organizations. An Educational organization opting in for a CEO position clearly communicates, their intent of running this institute very professionally, and students can expect a professional approach to study in this school.

We have started seeing CDO ‘Chief Design Officer’ titles being offered in select organizations.

In My opinion,  the following are the advantages of having a CDO position in your organization.


  • What type of organizations needs a CDO?

Businesses who are manufacturing and selling Physical or virtual products those are directly used by users can get a lot of value from Design. From Automobiles to White goods, electronics, apparel, packaged food,  Stationary; almost all the product categories listed in Amazon would see the value of Design. IT Product companies, developing personal accounting mobile app. to complex enterprise solutions would also come under this category. Companies offering specific service to target users, or indulging in offering specific solutions could also benefit from ‘Design’ at large.

The size of the organization and ‘design maturity’ of the organization also are important factors for this decision. Typically Industry which has used ‘Design talent’ or already has established a design department and started reaping fruits of design would be a pre-requisite in this decision.

Hiring a CDO could make a lot of sense if the maturity of design within your organization is already fairly high.


  • Why does my organization need a CDO?

Typically any of the above types of organizations might potentially have a ‘Design department.’ Most Auto manufacturers have matured ‘Design studios’ employing top notch creative Design talent. The Head of the Design department is responsible for building, mentoring and managing the design team.  Resource planning, Team management, and Project management skills are primary qualifications for this kind of role.

The CDO should have a slightly different mandate in this organization. CDO typically may not be involved in the day to day management of the Design department. Whereas, the CDO should work with the senior executives of the organization, helping in steering the strategic design decisions for the organization. The very presence of a CDO title indicates a high maturity of ‘Design’ within the organization.

Another main difference between the ‘Head of Design Department’ and the CDO role, is HOD would focus on how design is done in the organization, whereas, the CDO defines Why and how design adds value to the core business of the organization. A deep understanding of overall business and knowledge of the market would differentiate CDO from the HOD.


  • What should be the qualifications of the CDO?

I have read few Job descriptions for the CDO roles, which I felt are not very different from the HOD of design JD.

Individual having hands on experience with design is a primary qualifier. Design management, Design team and process management experience surely required skill.

Additionally, Entrepreneurial skills would be required to qualify for this role. Someone who can define design strategies for the organization, which are tactically executed not just within the design department, but  across many departments will qualify for this title.

CDO should be able to strike a balance between, business decisions and Design decisions.


  • Responsibilities and decision ownership.


CDO should have a mandate of defining and enforcing ‘Design policy‘ for the organization. Definition and standardization of design language, Design process, are some tactics typically should follow the strategic ‘Design Policy’

Most importantly the CDO should define and own ‘Design quality metrics‘ for the organization and should be empowered to STOP a release of a product on the grounds of ‘Bad Design’. The delayed release would prove to be Far better than complete failures of products in the market. CDO should be responsible for building ‘Design culture’ within the organization.  Any organization having ALL employees not just the design department having ‘Design sensitivity‘ is far more likely to produce high-quality products and services.

CDO should ideally be responsible for design strategy for the ‘complete’  Customer experience and not just designing products. There are many channels of communication or Touchpoints for the customers, and users to have interaction with the organization. Through the complete lifecycle of products, from Discovering the product, Sales cycle, First-time use,  Continued use, after sales support, and so on.

The CDO should influence throughout the lifecycle, by strategic design.

Hence channels like the public facing website, communities, help, and other support channels are equally important to the organization to be strategically designed to have effective, unified communication with the design.

CDO should plan to induce design sensitivity and Design thinking in every department of the organization.


  • The organizational structure for the CDO office.


Organizational structure defines the behavioral responses of employees of any organization. Whether a hierarchical organization or a Flat, the structure of the organization has an impact on the behavior of employees. I have seen distinct 2 models of the design organizations, One has a centralized design team, which ‘leads’ the design talent to different projects; (where projects are owned by different Business units) Another where, each business unit has a separate Design department, and a central design team supervises the consistency across organization. Both models have both advantages and disadvantages. In either case, in my opinion, the CDO should report into the CEO of the organization. And closely work with all executive officers for defining strategy and making sure the same is executed by design teams as well as other stakeholders within the organization.


The big picture from the perspective of Chief Design Officer:

Design can add value to the organization. CDO could look beyond the ‘Design Department’ and impart strategic design decisions to the elements or touchpoints other than the product. Public facing portals, User communities, Social media, Help documentation, Getting started experience, Support consoles, and self-help tools portals, internal and external communications are just a few things coming to my mind.

One design strategy for the complete ‘Customer experience’ tactically executed by various departments is the biggest advantage the CDO could bring on to the table.