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Designers around the world are in an incredible position. Culturally we are in a moment of transition, with an estimated impact that has not been seen since the industrial revolution. The influence that designers can and will have on this new emerging world is going to be great.

While this is all incredibly positive, there are many challenges ahead. While designers are being asked to step up into leadership roles there are organisational issues that may interfere with the big work that needs to be done.

Design can have a huge impact on the bottom line of a business, but it cannot fully realise this impact and profitability without mature design leadership embedded into the organisation. This challenge is one that can be overcome through proper management of design teams and the nurturing of design leadership within the organisation as a whole. An organisation must have a high degree of design maturity embedded not only within its design team but the entire organisation from the C level and upper management down.


The State Of Design and Design Maturity

What is the actual state of design leadership and design maturity’s impact on business today? Invisionapp produced a report: The New Design Frontier in 2019. They conducted research with 2,200 organisations in 23 different industries and 77 different countries. 

They discovered that companies who had a high degree of design leadership and design maturity on average make four times more revenue, products that are five times cheaper to launch and get to market roughly six times faster. The valuation of companies with high design maturity is 26 times higher than companies with low design maturity.

For organisations that are improving or reinventing their products and services the true business impact of high design maturity is critical. It will become the edge that guarantees continued profitability over a decline in relevance in the marketplace.

Design is having a moment, however, to have a greater impact companies will have started growing and moving from a low maturity to a high design maturity organisation. This can only be achieved with strategic design leadership and understanding where a company sits within the design maturity scale.


The Understand The 5 Levels Of Design Maturity

According to the New Design Frontier Report only the top 5% of organisations are using design in a way that is elevating strategy, increasing market share, and surging employee impact. In high performing design organisations the designer-to-developer ratios are balanced, design systems are commonly adopted, and user research is part of workflows. 

Understanding the difference between a high and a low maturity organsation is key to evolving and building a better design practice. Below are the phases of design maturity, review them to get an understanding of not only where your organisation sits, but where it can go with proper design leadership.

Level 1: Producers

Level 1 companies are focused only on the vision aspects of design, design is something that happens on a screen. At this level, organisations work to create a consistent story through visual identity guidelines but neglect processes, collaboration, and advanced tools.

Level 2: Connectors

Design teams at Level 2 organisations have developed more collaborative processes, incorporating joint working sessions and integrated tooling with non-design peers. User research, user stories, usability testing, and personas are also common. Design is commonly spoken about by executives who understand the importance and employees who express empathy for customers.

Level 3: Architects

Design is a scalable function in Level 3 businesses. They have moved beyond basic participatory design processes and have shared ownership, role clarity, joint accountability, and increased documentation of advanced design practices. This level of design supports complex product ecosystems and is integrated in the company’s complex internal operating structures.

Level 4: Scientists

Organisations at this level are involved in data-driven design. They use analytics, experimentation, recruiting for user research, and monitor the success of specific efforts. They also have the beginnings of a design strategy practice, engaging in market research and vision development. In these companies, the design team has a degree of autonomy to pursue opportunities it sees as important. Executives are involved and publicly embrace the importance of design, as well as measuring and monitoring its impact on businesses. They also have advanced design operations to support this work.

Level 5: Visionaries

Level 5 companies are strong at all levels of maturity, but what separates them from others is design’s involvement in strategy and vision. Design brings deeper insights to strategy through exploratory user research techniques, trends and foresight research that assess product market fit, and the delivery of unified cross-platform strategies. These companies report that design has an impact on the widest range of benefits, from employee productivity to growth in market share to the development of new intellectual property.



Design Is Leadership

The understanding where an organisation sits in the five levels of design maturity within organisations is a great place to start to expand the impact of design. The second step is to use international leadership capabilities to make the business case to expand design capabilities to the next level up on the scale.

No matter where your organsation sits on this scale it will only improve if the right leaders champion design to take it to a new level. Design leadership used within organisations creates new opportunities for collaboration and allows new types of people to step up to take on a leadership roles. 

It has never been more important for designers to prepare for the next steps in their career. As a design leader they will be asked to step forward and define not only what design is and can achieve, but what impact design can have on the world.

Design can and does create a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. As an industry designers must grow the influence of design within organisations not only to keep their businesses relevant during a time of rapid change, but to create a better world

If you are ready to design the next steps for your organisation, learn more about the business impact of design from Stephen Gates in our Design Leadership Masterclass series. For more information visit the site or book a call to discuss how the course can take your career to the next level.


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Megan Davis

Originally from Michigan, now living and creating in Melbourne, Megan considers herself a citizen of the world. She has been discovering stories since 2012, specialising in narrative strategy and storytelling for businesses that are daring to create new realities and futures.
She has traveled the world conducting workshops in New York, London, Berlin, and most recently Lisbon at the House of Beautiful Business in 2019 to teach people how to connect with storytelling to deliver strategic business results.
Putting empathy first in business and life, she loves sharing her knowledge by speaking, training, and consulting on projects that are changing the world.

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