Good things come in three, they say. Perhaps that is why it was such an enjoyable experience to join the first dmi:conference in the last three years. Maybe it’s a stretch, but as the experience was a positive one (thankfully, not for corona), I’m going to run with it.

The two full days in Boston were jam-packed with large and small group sessions led by some of the world’s leading design managers. Of the many presentations and conversations had between sessions, two major themes emerged:

The state of design: looking back to look forward

Mauro Porcini

The state of design in the corporation has come a long way, but that’s not to say it still doesn’t have a long way to go. Mauro Porcini, Chief Design Officer at Pepsi Co, highlighted this in his session entitled “Human Side of Innovation: The Power of People in Love with People”. Mauro helped the audience to contextualize the “why” for this shift. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he pointed to globalization and new technology as significant catalysts for such a change. He eloquently pointed out that in today’s world, we have better access to the end user than we’ve ever had before. We live in the era of the start-up, where big corporates are no longer the only ones fighting for market share.

What’s the secret to gaining market share and fulfilling today’s insatiable consumer? Being better connected with the people, he argued. This creates a vital position for designers, who, as Mauro stated, play the key role of ambassadors of the human being. So, what do we need for the future, you may ask? We need to spread the role of design and the design thinking methodology to other business functions. Of course, this is easier said than done, but perhaps it is more realistic as Design Thinking continues to creep towards mainstream adoption.

Laura Dye

Mauro also encouraged us to build teams and organizations with the right people. More specifically, we are looking for people that are motivated by curiosity, whom display kindness, and have the ability to both dream and execute. Maybe it sounds utopian, but Laura Dye, Director, and Principal of Global Organization Development at Intel Corporation, also echoed the importance of kindness during the panel discussion entitled “Leveraging the Power of Design to Create Organizations of the Future”. As a designer in HR, she provided some practical advice for fostering kindness in the workplace. She suggested we start by asking people how they are doing at the end of a meeting and make space for people to show up differently. It sounds like a simple enough place to start to me! Could this be the beginning of more design professionals working in the world of Human Resources?

How do we structure this dang thing?

Jill Lawrence

Speaking of structure, the topic of organizational structure cannot be ignored. Organizational structure and its role in human behavior are untangleable. The panelists provided valuable tips when this topic came up in the “Leveraging the Power of Design to Create Organizations of the Future” session. One such tip was the encouragement to co-create organizational transformations from the beginning and not just leave them to the minds of a few senior leaders. Why is this? Because getting buy-in and igniting successful change is much more difficult when stakeholders are not engaged in the process. Change is never easy, but it’s crucial as designers not to forget to use design’s toolkit on oneself!

Alex Tan

Thanks to the session hosted by Jill Lawrence, VP Design at Crown Equipment Company, on “New Ideas for Career Ladders and Talent Development in Design” I can now rest assured that getting the organizational structure just right is a common challenge among organizations of all sizes. We gathered in a small group with other design professionals (from agency owners to C-suite corporate leaders) and shared our challenges on the topic.  We dove into the trade-off decisions organizations have to make when providing career development paths for designers, especially when working in a multidisciplinary setting. It was shocking to hear similar challenges echoed in organizations with seemingly very little in common regarding size, service, culture, or product. Perhaps it’s just the beginning, but I can‘t help but think putting the heads together of a diverse set of leaders across company borders is probably the best way to come up with a viable solution (especially if this pain point is shared by many).

The theme of restructuring did not end with design functions in the organization. This was also evident when we toured the Philips Experience Center in Cambridge. Undoubtedly, Philips has poured some impressive innovation contributions into the healthcare sector. Especially, as the organization has shifted from a primarily product to service-based business. This was highlighted in the work that Alex Tan, Design Innovation Director at Philips Experience Design, presented during his “Designing for Pediatric Behavioral Health” session. Alex shared with us the hard work his team has been doing to rethink and restructure the handling of behavioral health in the Dallas children’s hospital.

A big thank you to the Design Management Institute for putting together a successful event. I very much look forward to seeing faces new and old next year in Madrid.

Sarah Crooks

Managing Director

Sarah leads the community building and business development in New York bringing an American-European perspective to the table. As a self-proclaimed curious mind, she believes everyone (and everything) has a story.

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