The Business of Value Design report by McKinsey published in 2018 validated what many designers have been saying for years. 

Four years later, its latest publication of the report takes a look at how designers work in top performing companies. It suggested best results when designers collaborate and interact with colleagues from other departments in cross-functional teams. This apparently prevents designers sitting and waiting for tasks and encourages collaboration and productivity. It also increased a sense of value in designers. 

The report looks at data from “3 million designers and design leaders in 100,000 design departments”. 

Authors further observe that “the best design teams had designers organised with dotted lines to their design departments (for knowledge-sharing, tools and community) but hard lines to their project team. All project team members – including designers, marketeers financiers and project managers – had a common ste of financial incentives around time, cost, revenue and customer satisfaction.”

On this practice, McKinsey partner Benefice Sheppard states “it’s sort of like diet and exercise – everyone knows you should do it, it’s just that no one does […] Often it wasn’t the designers themselves but the infrastructure and the process of the company that was set up to make it too difficult to do.” 

When talking about design and trying to specifically define the term, McKinsey say “it certainly is not the 1970s definition of colour, material and finish […] we worked with the organisations to come up with a definition which was ‘understanding users’ needs and then creating solutions to meet those needs’. So it was user-focused across physical, digital and service”. 

Designers also benefit and create better work from freedom. One CDO interview reported “we used to tell designers what to do, now they’re showing us what is possible and it’s so much better”.  

The role of the studio has also changed “it isn’t that by being in a cross-functional team that the studio disappears” says the same CDO. “There is still a critical role for the studio to play around community and celebration and that sense of belonging is still there for many. It’s just that now the studio is the mothership, a safe space where you bring otters in.” 

Sheppard spoke on the responsibilities of designers themselves to understand and learn about the concerns and needs of collages “designers too have an onus to build bridges and demonstrate their business understanding, not expect others to come to them looking for design enlightenment”. 

“It’s fine to have 80 or 90% of your role being about exquisite craft” Sheppard continues “but that final 10-20% must include openness and curiosity about your colleagues from whatever department” 

He further suggests that bringing the best of the team together is key “we have been talking in your design leadership group about ‘purpose, people, profit, planet’ […] if a designer is making part of that brief, they will be inspired to be a part of all of that rather than just being given an aesthetic or functional sliver. The mark of a truly modern designer is someone who has an ability to talk about business, societal and environmental impact and to balance them”. 

To conclude, McKinsey is also now laying out how design can help itself to deliver on environmental pledges and re-imagine a world where design confronts the challenges ahead of us. 

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