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CEOs Must Be Designers, Not Just Hire Them. Think Steve Jobs And iPhone.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on June 28, 2007

I gave a speech at Innovation Night at the Royal College of Art in London on Tuesday and here it is. It’s my latest thinking on innovation and design. There are a number of bottom lines in it but perhaps the most important is that I now believe that CEOs and managers must know Design Thinking to do their jobs. CEOs must be designers and use their methodologies to actually run companies. Let me be even more precise. Design Thinking is the new Management Methodology. There are a growing number of insightful folks with great blogs who are saying the same thing and I’ll be linking to them and having a deep conversation with them in the future.

But for now, here’s my RCA speech. Let me know what you think.

“Thank you Jeremy (Myerson). It’s great being here. London is like New York on steroids. It’s so exciting! London is clearly the global city of the moment. It is the center of things.

Tonight, I bring you news from America on the state of design. In preparation, I talked to the most thoughtful and important American designers and design educators I could contact. On Friday, I chatted up Tim Brown who runs IDEO, the biggest design and innovation consultancy in the US. Oops. Tim is a Brit—and a graduate of the RCA. I tried Jonnie Ive at Apple. He was busy polishing up the iPhone. But, as you well know, he too is a Brit. I called the founder of ZIBA design in Portland, Oregon. Sohrab Vossoughi. Sohrab was born in Iran. I just had dinner with Paul Thompson, the director of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. Yep, he’s British. I emailed Patrick Whiney at the Illinois Institute of Design and—darn—he’s Canadian. I spoke with Yves Behar at Fuse Projects in San Francisco. And he’s, well, Swiss-Turkish.

You get my point. I’m not sure there is a specific “American” design point of view today but there sure is a global perspective coming out of America thanks to its global designers and design thinkers. That’s a good thing. Design has many enemies and parochialism is perhaps the worst. In an era when all of us, journalists, business people, and designers are making the transition from being leaders of thought to curators of conversations, I believe the field of design is best served by viewing it in the broadest of terms. Industrial design was born by cross-pollinating graphics, fashion and even window display with the demands of product marketing. Post-industrial design is evolving out of the interplay of new and exciting global and technological forces as well. More of that later.

Let’s get up to 30,000 feet for a bit to see what big forces at play around the world are shaping design. Let me begin by saying that we don’t know !#@*! I’m sorry but it is true. There are moments in history when the pace of change is so fast and the shape of the future so fuzzy that we live in a constant state of beta.

I mean, let’s face it, our business models are melting down around us, our personal careers are morphing—or disappearing-- and there is less certainty about tomorrow than at any other time in our lives. Every industry, every company and every one of us is swept up in this veritable flood of change. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? I used to be The Voice of Authority at Business Week, the editorial page editor. Now I’m the curator-in-chief, coaching a brilliant team of people in creating a new online innovation site called Innovation & Design and a new magazine called Inside Innovation. That’s very far from writing editorials.

Before we continue, let me take a moment to talk about the banana. In the US, CEOs and top managers hate the word “design.” Just believe me. No matter what they tell you, they believe that “design” only has something to do with curtains, wallpaper and maybe their suits. These guys, and they’re still mostly guys, prefer the term “innovation” because it has a masculine, military, engineering, tone to it. Think Six Sigma and you want to salute, right? I’ve tried and tried to explain that design goes way beyond aesthetics. It can have process, metrics all the good hard stuff managers love. But no, I can’t budge this bunch. So I have given up. Innovation, design, technology—I just call it all a banana. Peel that banana back and you find great design. Yummy design. . The kind of design that can change business culture and all of our civil society as well.

OK. Back to the theme of nothing is the same anymore. Innovation is no longer just about new technology per se. It is about new models of organization. Design is no longer just about form anymore but is a method of thinking that can let you to see around corners. And the high tech breakthroughs that do count today are not about speed and performance but about collaboration, conversation and co-creation. That’s what Web 2.0 is all about.

Innovation, design, and technology are all flowing into one another to form a single river of roaring change radically altering our culture, and especially business culture. The sudden advent of social media—blogs, MySpace, Second Life, Facebook, mommies with twins and millions of other digital communities is the strongest manifestation of this change in culture. And behind this convergence of innovation, design and technology are even greater global forces at work. The commoditization of knowledge and tools around the world is leading to a Do It Yourself culture. The democratization of design and innovation is allowing both the wisdom and folly of crowds to directly shape products, services and brands. And the rise of Web 2.0 tools is leading to an explosion of new social networks that allow consumers—people—to be actively engaged in the conversations that shape their lives. The 22-year old founder of Facebook, recently said that “the other guys think the purpose of communication is to get information. We think the purpose of information is to get communication.”

Which is great for design. Designers are the sherpas of culture, the guides to community, the empathizers of the odd and foreign. Globalization and the spread of the market into each and every traditional village at the bottom of the pyramid opens up ancient communities that we now need to understand. Social networking creates entirely new communities, each with a distinctive new culture, that we need to understand as well. The empathetic tools of design can bring business people, educators, urban planners, hospital managers, transportation developers—everyone-- into these communities to understand their values and rules, their needs and wants.

That’s Design As Margaret Mead, Design As Anthropology. Design is so popular today mostly because business sees design as connecting it to the consumer populace in a deep, fundamental and honest way. An honest way. If you are in the myth-making business, you don’t need design. You need a great ad agency. But if you are in the authenticity and integrity business then you have to think design. If you are in the co-creation business today—and you’d better be in this age of social networking—then you have to think of design. Indeed, your brand is increasingly shaped and defined by network communities, not your ad agency. Brand manager? Forget about it. Brand curator maybe.

Then there is Design as Peter Drucker or Design as Management Methodology. Design is popular today also because Design Thinking—the methodology of design taken out of the small industrial design context and applied to business and social process—is spreading fast. Hate me if you will, but I am a believer in Design Thinking. In the world of business, there is no value proposition left for most companies in controlling costs or even quality. All that outsourcing has leveled this playing field. Cost and quality are commoditized today, merely the price of entry to the competitive game. Design and design thinking—or innovation if you like--are the fresh, new variables that can bring advantage and fat profit margins to global corporations. In today’s global marketplace, being able to understand the consumer, prototype possible new products, services and experiences, quickly filter the good, the bad and the ugly and deliver them to people who want them—well, that is an attractive management methodology. Beats the heck out of squeezing yet one more penny out of your Chinese supply-chain, doesn’t it?
Let me emphasize this. I think managers have to BECOME designers, not just hire them. I think CEOs have to embrace design thinking, not just hire someone who gets it. I think many business schools have to merge with design schools, not just play poke and tickle with them.

What are the biggest social trends that will have an impact on design in the future? I’ll give you the obvious first—sustainability. Sustainability will be a prime driver of economic growth in the years ahead. Green will move from the realm of corporate responsibility to the space of revenue expansion and profit generation. I see it sprouting everywhere in the US. I’m assuming that Europe is way ahead in this.

By sustainability, I mean something more fundamental than just saving energy. I mean the reinvention of the chemistry of industry. I mean Bill McDonough will finally be proved right—that cradle-to-cradle capitalism is the next stage in the evolution of our economic system. Forests grow and fast. They just don’t pollute. Increasingly I see companies changing the chemistry of their manufacturing processes to build things that do not pollute. I see business people and designers beginning to mine the vast “new” resources of waste to create new things. Your own Richard Liddle, who is currently one of the Cutting Edge Designers on our Innovation & Design site, is a leader in this. So is John Thackara, organizer of DoTT 07, Design of the Times, 07, a fantastic event that has no equal anywhere.
One thought on this. Food is going very local in the US. People are eating locally grown food because it tastes better and you save on energy. Waste mining and cradle-to-cradle chemistry can create a more local manufacturing system as well. And perhaps bring back industry to Britain and the US. If you’re out there Thackara, go talk to Al Gore about this and help him put some substance on the frame of his vague global warming message. Bulk it up as much as he has ….well, you know what I mean.

The second great trend that will soon have an impact on design is social networking. Social media is upending relationships between customers and corporations, brand owners and brand creators, consumers and producers, centralized authority and anarchistic periphery and—pay attention here—designers and their audiences. People want to design their own experiences, or at least have a big voice in it. With Web 2.0 technology and blogs, they get that voice. People are increasingly designing their own shoes and clothes, their own screen pages, their own interfaces, their own homes. And when they’re not, they want designers and managers to really understand what they have to say. Nike is changing the way it designs and manufactures because of social networking. So are dozens of other companies. Yes, we will always have our brilliant geniuses who intuit their audiences and create wonderful experiences for them. Ive and Jobs at Apple. Bang & Olufsen and its incredible designers and designs. But even Apple is getting hit very hard on the sustainability issue because it isn’t listening to its social networks. Brands have ideologies. They stand for things. People believe in those things. When the culture of Apples’ customers changes, as it is happening today, it has to move with it. You, as designers, can’t just do ethnology anymore. You have to join with those you’re observing to be in their culture and create with them.

So is design education preparing designers for the future? Are they learning to be truly empathic and understanding? I don’t know. When did students last journey to a village in southern India, a Navajo reservation in southwestern New Mexico or a fading industrial town here in Britain?
How much do they know about materials? How much chemistry have they studied? Are students really familiar with cradle-to-cradle or do they just read about it in Business Week and the Economist? Do they understand social networking? Do they participate in it? When was the last time their avatars bought something with Linden dollars in Second Life? Do they have a Facebook page? Do they have a blog and do they it link to Thackara’s Doors of Perception and my NussbaumOnDesign?

Of course, when it comes to design education, the very old and very boring question is whether or not designers and their teachers have ended their distaste for commerce and business culture. I have nothing to say about this except that this debate about art and commerce is so last century. If you are even discussing the issue, you are way behind. If you haven’t fully integrated your design, engineering, business and marketing students and faculty into teams on a regular and systemic basis, you are behind. I know the RCA is on the cutting edge here thanks to Jeremy and others with the Helen Hamlyn Centre, Innovation RCA and the new Design-London centre at RCA Imperial. A design MBA, now that’s hot.

But I ask—is it enough? Does it scale so it matters? Because scale is critical now. There is an enormous demand for designers and design thinkers today. This is the moment to prove to decision-makers in business and civil society that design is game-changing. Yet there are relatively very few talented and trained designers in the marketplace today. Schools in the US are scrambling to reform their curriculum and their teaching methods to turn out these students—but you can count the best schools on one hand. Indeed, there is a nice little war going on in the US between those design educators that want to stress strategy and those which focus on form. It’s a silly argument to me. Design should not give up its special ability to visualize ideas and give form to options. Design should extend its brief to embrace a more abstract and formalized expression of how it translates empathy to creativity and then to form and experience. Be broad, not narrow. Global, not parochial. Do not deny the powerful problem-solving abilities of design to the cultures of business and society. China graduates some 40,000 designers each year. A growing number of them are very good and they are finding jobs in the US. They are getting the form-making part down and are learning the design thinking stuff. Demand for designers will be met, if not by you, then them. Designers and design schools are in a global game, not a national one. Global scale is important.

There are two great barriers to innovation and design in the world today. Ignorant CEOs and ignorant designers. Both groups are well-intentioned and well-dressed—in their own ways—but both can be pretty dangerous characters. The RCA is clearly in the forefront of battling this ignorance.

I’ll end now and open it up to a broad discussion with all of you.

Oh, by the way, did I tell you we just hired Helen Walters to run our Innovation & Design online site? She writes for Creative Review. Yes, of course, she’s British."

What do you think?

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Reader Comments

Irene Pereyra

June 28, 2007 11:21 PM


Great summary of your talk... You really hit it right on the head, especially when you say that we are getting back to the truth of products and services, and finally getting away from the myth a lot of advertising has created over the last decades.

As a design student, I must say this movement towards designing for, with and around the consumer is exhilarating. Though the actual practicalities of it are still being defined (even the lexicon isn’t really clear yet!) I’m glad to see how many people are discussing this now.

I was at the Cooper-Hewitt IDEO panel discussion and was very happy to hear from actual business leaders trying to deal with all this "design thinking" in a practical way, as the idea is still hard to frame within the walls of academia, especially without any business classes, and as you stated no emphasis on sustainability or even ethnography.

Anyways, thanks for keeping this conversation on the forefront of innovation!

John Mayberry

June 28, 2007 11:28 PM

Combining British design, American marketing, and Asian manufacturing makes great business sense.

Brits have made wonderful designers for decades: Issigonis, Sinclair, Walker et al. Yet their genius led to cars that leak oil, calculators that wouldn't turn on, and speakers that blow tweeters.

Innovative yes, but ultimately a failure unless another country took over. Don't overlook the other important parts of the equation.


June 29, 2007 12:18 PM

I think this is one of the better things you've written, Bruce, even though I believe "Design Thinking" is a misleading label for all the reasons I've discussed on my own blog ( ).

Sadly, I also find that most Industrial Designers are simply out-of-touch with what's going on. Tell them about Dassault's recently announced interest in creating the "3D Flickr" and they don't seem to see how that potentially impacts them. Mention Croquet and the possibility of a secure, local instantiation of this 3D peer-to-peer application and eyes glaze over. The business community seems to be catching on (e.g. Coca-Cola apparently releasing their trademark for use in Second Life), but it does seem as if the majority of IDers are blissfully ignorant of the changes headed their way, and content to remain so. Thus, the ID community is likely destined to remain largely stuck beneath a very low corporate glass ceiling... while those able to move up will do so outside the corporate environment.

Mark Whiting

June 29, 2007 01:42 PM

Nice speech.

I really like the concept of the non-local designer. A few years ago I was interested in proving a point to a friend and asked him to name a well known American designer. At the time we were both quite unfamiliar with all the designers of the world and in the end we had only the Eames on our list.

The point that I was suggesting to my friend was that designers are global however their locality is often a notable issue.

Given the likely effect of the trends you mentioned, what do you think will come with the advent social networked design? Design where global collaborative teams of interested individuals can work together for no costs using a familiar interface.


June 29, 2007 02:10 PM

completely disagree, bruce.

managers to become leaders.
bean counters to stay bean counters.
and stylists to become designers.

in the real world all three are needed. (and quite some others more)

and as we have learned in couple therapy: productive interaction starts with acknowledging each others differences -- and not with falling for an illusion that there is this one magic formula to fit them all.

if you are looking for a true paradigm, it has to be built on differences, not on handing out funny and flashy new hats for everybody to wear.

... otherwise you will do nothing but run straight into the dead end of the latest management fad.


June 29, 2007 05:55 PM

I read the whole thing! Its a great speech. It had a message and you seemed to know your audience. Would it be enough if the CEO were part of a design team and design conscience rather than actually being a designer?

Georges de Wailly

June 29, 2007 10:36 PM

"There are two great barriers to innovation and design in the world today. Ignorant CEOs and ignorant designers"
Not sure! The big problem is that we face a problem:
CEOs must lead their organizations in a specified direction. Designers must produce "ideas" without considering an eventual match with the company's rules. They waste time and time is a volatile asset for CEOs. When CEOs are designers themselves, the time savings become a competitive advantage.


June 30, 2007 01:05 PM

Marvelous! Right on the pulse of design in my opinion.


July 1, 2007 05:56 AM

Nice post, I'm inspired. yu from baidu

Mark Dawson

July 1, 2007 09:43 PM

So Bruce, I have to disagree: CEO’s should be CEO’s, but a good CEO knows how to spot talent. But I do agree with the sprit of the statement, today MBAs and designers, need more than a solid background in a single discipline, its part of the rebellion against the specialists. There are already programs trying to address this, such as the exchange between the Art Center College of Design and INSEAD. When you say CEOs must be designers (and I might say they need to be anthropologists) I think you are wishing for the extreme end of the pendulum swing that started when we all realized that teams often worked better than individuals. In the dusty past I wrote on the importance of the multi-disciplinary team: gett the designer, engineer, researcher and marketer in one room and you can avoid the silo effect. It was an interesting idea at the time that many companies tried to make work, but it was also wrong. People still could not speak each others language. The result was often no result at all or something pretty mediocre (a classic design by committee problem) or worse, it turned into a cage match and a struggle for power. It was those early attempts that made a few of us realize that you needed multi-disciplinary people. That rare bird that not only had an eclectic background of business, design, research, and strategy among others, but could synthesize information across those disciplines’s to get a new insight. But I think even this is old news for most of us at the center of the work today. It is just these multi-talented folks that we are looking for in my office. When my friends that are recruiters call me to see if I know of anyone for a particular position, this is what they are looking for as well. But its not that these people are in-depth experts in all those areas that matters. What matters is they have enough aptitude for a variety of fields and enough common language and empathy to work in teams with people that have various and complementary strengths

To suggest that CEO’s should be designers, designers should be MBAs and MBA’s need to sketch would be, in most cases, a tragic mistake if taken literally. A friend that chairs a small anthropology department and I were discussing your blog the other day, part of my on-going conspiracy to get academics interested and enthusiastic about business. I argued that what the CEO needs to know about design is the difference between Great, Good and Crap and how design drives and is the customer facing expression of corporate strategy. This is not news, people have been talking about the strategic value of design for years, even if not acting on it with great effect. Her take is that the CEO needs to know enough about design to get the hell out of the way and let the pros that hopefully are smarter than they are to get on with it. It’s the whole “Get the right people on the bus, and let them do their jobs” strategy. The idea that people should be able to do it all is an over-enthusiastic reaction to what we have learned over the years about the dangers of hyper-specialization. To quote myself (I am not a journalist or an academic, so I can do that, right?) from a comment in another BW blog: Steve Jobs didn’t show up in Cupertino one day with a pair of stone tables that had the iTunes business model on one tablet and a CAD drawing of the iPod on the other. The iTunes explosion was the result of a lot of people at Apple working hard, not to mention the MP3 players that came before, and a visionary leader in Steve Jobs that understood the significance of putting it all together. That’s the key: its not a CEO that can design, but a CEO that can weave together diverse threads of understanding to figure out what’s next.

We have all heard the story of the amazing product by that a lone smart person in the bowels of some corporation who stuck by and fought for it tooth and nail for despite everyone telling them it was a bad idea. The way the story usually goes is: The product is a hit and that CEO or some other muckity-muck praises the tenacious engineer, project manager, etc for bucking the system, pressing on in the face of adversity, etc. How come no one turns around to the CEO and others and says “Ummm, why are you proud of the fact that you can’t tell the difference between a good idea and a bad one?”

CEO’s don’t need to be designers, they need to be critical thinkers that can weigh the merits of strategy, markets, risk and know how to find people that can help them place design strategy in that context. Job has been a huge and positive influence on design both aesthetically and how it can drive bottom line revenue growth. But not just because he has a deep intuitive understanding of design, but because he understands how to use all the resources available to him to tap into deep needs and meet those needs in clever and compelling ways.

By the way, your word processor made a wee mistake. You say “You, as designers, can’t just do ethnology anymore.” I know you mean “ethnography.” But for your readers: An ethnology is a study and analysis done by comparing across cultures to answer big questions like “How common is the incest taboo?” Ethnography is the study of a culture of particular group of people, for example a tribe in the Amazon or in the case of Design Ethnography, young video game players. An ethnology is done by comparing multiple ethnographies.

Peter Nicholson

July 2, 2007 04:12 AM

An interesting talk. I would add that in order for designers to evolve, or CEO's for that matter, their education is going to need to become much more broad and intensive. If I aspire to work on the crucial issues facing my community, country and world, as I do, why should my education be any less than that of my friend who is a radiologist? Having just turned 39, attended the Institute of Design, held various positions in both the non- and for-profit sectors, run my own small studio, lived in Europe, and pursued a deep understanding of sustainability for the last 9 years, I feel that I'm just now ready to practice this emerging discipline called Sustainable Design. It's not a matter of learning either form giving or concept thinking, but rather both, and a lot more. To realize the potential of design, whether as CEO's or freelancers, we must become multi-lingual, our world, as you correctly illustrated, is demanding it.

Bruce Nussbaum

July 2, 2007 01:52 PM

Thanks for the really insightful post. As always in a speech, I tried to push it to provoke. When I say that I believe CEOs must BE designers, I mean that they have to understand design thinking--using the process to manage the company. That is what Jobs does--he isn't a trained designer but he gets it. He focuses on what is important these days. And it took him a while to get these skills. Remember all those mistakes along the way?
So, did you get an iPhone or not?

Mark Dawson

July 2, 2007 03:48 PM

Thanks Bruce,

I think this “conversation” we are having here is an example of what is necessary when we talk about Design Thinking on the part of CEO’s which is just part of a larger practice of Holistic Strategic Management (A post I am still working on, alas). We toss a topic out there; we poke and prod at it, and try to iterate through the mistakes as quickly as we can to get to the right answer. It is not a question of WHO has the right answer, but a commitment by all parties that the journey to the right answer has very high value as well and will yield a far better result. This is not the same as design by committee. There has to be a commitment to a result, and like diamonds, it is often that pressure for a result that forces clarity. That’s the real Design Process when you think about it from a strategic standpoint; multiple relevant (relevant is an important point) people getting involved in the discussion to achieve a high value result to the company. This requires an ability to takes ones ego out of the game, a skill that is certainly not taught in design or management schools. Its also one of the first things we have to teach new interns at Jump. Having the right answer to a question is good, but the ability push with a team to achieve the right answer to a really hard question is of much higher value.

That why the Steve Job-sian school of management has a potentially fatal weakness. When he steps away from Apple, as we have seen in the past, the company is totally screwed. He IS a great design thinker, but he does not appear to be a great at being, as you call it, a curator of conversations, that you need to be to have a truly holistic approach to strategy in a very long term.

No, no iPhone yet. I am on Sprint (don’t get me started on their god awful customer service). Despite my intense early adopter bent, it is an item I am waiting on the next rev of it, which I would likely buy into. But I do think it will push other companies to try to go farther!

Ted Mininni

July 2, 2007 05:33 PM

Hi Bruce,

As president/owner of my own design consultancy for the past 17 years, I applaud your continued efforts to raise the visibility of this issue . While I do not expect C Suite executives to become designers anytime soon, if ever, I do think there is a profound need for business management from CEOs down who are trained to develop their analytical, left brain capabilities, to become imbued in the creative problem-solving right brain capabilities of designers. . .and vice versa. Thankfully, more B-schools and design schools are making a real effort to cross-pollinate these very different disciplines in their students.

By doing this, business executives and designers will develop more of an understanding of each other and more respect for the talents each side brings to the table. More importantly: business faces a number of thorny issues that will be best met by taking a "whole brained approach" to them. I have written a newsletter article for Marketing Profs on this issue that may be of interest to you and to your readers, as well as blog posts: “Left Brain—Right Brain: Creating a New Business Model”. Sign up is easy if some of your readers aren't already accessing MP articles.

This topic is a very important one; I'm hoping continued dialogue will spur the business and design communities on to more action. Thanks, Bruce, for your ongoing discourse on the integration of business and design.

Ted Mininni, President
Design Force, Inc.

John Arnott IDSA, DMI

July 2, 2007 06:19 PM

Interesting continuation of the theme you have been pushing with Roger Martin and others. While I agree that senior management must be increasingly adept at managing the culture and strategies of thier firms, I think you do a disservice suggesting that they be more like designers.
For the last four years I have taught a graduate course in Design Management in which we attempt to have graduate designers be more empathetic to the business needs of management (and shareholders) while simultaneously improving the tools that they have to manage design strategy. Unfortunately the majority of design schools are still operating on the basis of the designer as a lone artist satisfying his or her own ego.
Some years ago I coined the phrase, "We need a culture for innovation and the environment to sustain it." That is what the CEO should be doing, not designing.

David Armano

July 2, 2007 06:41 PM

I don't know if CEO's have to be desigers—but it doesn't hurt to think like one. However, this statement in your essay really stuck out for me:

"Design is so popular today mostly because business sees design as connecting it to the consumer populace in a deep, fundamental and honest way. An honest way. If you are in the myth-making business, you don’t need design. You need a great ad agency. But if you are in the authenticity and integrity business then you have to think design."

While I agree in spirit that marketing tends to be in the myth making industry—I would say that an area that many designers lack in and should not is in the area of storytelling.

In fact, if there is one thing that Steve Jobs does really, amazingly well is tell stories. His commencement address at Stanford is a great example of this. He knows how to appeal to both your head and heart. And of course, he uses this uncanny ability to help sell the designs and strategies he believes in.

So are all good designers good storytellers? No. They aren't. Some are. Tim Brown knows how to tell IDEO's story. Actually, I'd say he's even helped elevate that story to "mythic" proportions. IDEO knows how to tell their own story. To create artifacts like the Method cards that lives beyond their project work.

But no, I don't think all designers have this ability. And they need it. They need it to sell their visions, to convince people that their designs work. Designers need to learn to tell stories to persuade people.

Bruce, I'm not sure you consider yourself a designer. In many ways you certainly think like one. But you are also an effective storyteller. If CEO's must be designers, then designers must become better storytellers.

Keep up the good work. Keep making us think. And keep telling stories.

Yael Miller

July 3, 2007 03:48 PM

I've read Bruce's talk and several of the comments here. I don't think Bruce means that CEO's should BE designers, but rather CEO's need to THINK like designers and understand that whole psychology and mode of thinking. Otherwise, there is this I-don't-get-where-you're-coming from kind of friction between upper-management and product development/design departments. CEO's need to be educated about design and its core value to the bottom line and to the success of its products.

Olivier Blanchard

July 3, 2007 06:51 PM


This article is the best thing I've read in a while. Thank you for writing it. You have absolutely hit the nail squarely on the head. For every business leader who understands this, there are dozens who wouldn't even get past the first paragraph, and hundreds who won't put any of this into action, even if they understand it and agree with it on some level. That's scary and kind of depressing, but at least, I know what my life's work is about. ;D

Keep up the good work.

Bruce A. Bruk

July 3, 2007 10:01 PM


Enjoyed very much your speech. I've only recently been involved in the design industry and therefore your insight is very helpful as I have been an Entrepreneur all my life and now I find myself using those talents to help build new business models for an Architectural and Interior Design Firm. SmartDesign Group however, is truely a leader. Senior Parnter, Nick Baker who is also a Brit, has lead the company for years in a very innovative direction, now recognized as one of the top design companies in the transportation industry, working on over 117 airports worldwide in terms of the interior Duty Free, F&B and Retail concessionaire space.

I was actually hired because of my language skills (Mandarin) and my knowledge of the Far East, Japan/Korea/Taiwan and Greater China. Our company is taking advantage of efficiencies while we also explore opportunities in these new growth markets. I was very interested to hear what Mark Dawson had to say about people speaking the same language. I feel like I am slowly getting there, and in the end I will have been able to not only combine business and mandarin but to include the newly acquired lanuguage of design. Everyday is a new challenge for me which I am meeting head on.

John Biggs

July 4, 2007 08:14 AM

I enjoyed your article on "American Design", or design in general. I'm an architect who got an MBA and now working in Bucharest for a consulting firm. So, I see leadership and processes and all the changes going on here, and career planning, as design. Language is also design, so a well-written comment is if the "comment design" is alittle rough, it's a work in progress.


July 5, 2007 12:27 AM

very nice article, i really like "Innovation is no longer just about new technology per se. It is about new models of organization. Design is no longer just about form anymore but is a method of thinking that can let you to see around corners". it's ture about any managers need design thinking to run business or strategies.

rada ibisheva

July 6, 2007 09:55 AM

i thiink your autobiography is very interesting although i also think it would to let other people see designes on your piece and let them show ideaws of theres to you please cosider my ideas thank you x

Jorge Barahona

July 6, 2007 02:52 PM

Great and exiting article.
We working in Interaction Design in Chile and have lived the same. The manager and clients don't trust in Design, trust in engineering and didn't understand the new social media revolution, they didn't listen us and now we have the power.
The power of innovation, the power of change across internet and our methodology( those biz.

Eran Friedman

July 9, 2007 07:16 AM

great speech. translting it to hebrew to post in my blog with your permission.

Himanshu Gupta

July 11, 2007 08:21 AM

Looking at the debate of "American design point of view" being represented by predominantly non-Americans in America, I wonder if there is a culture angle to it. In other words, each designer/innovator is deeply influenced by the culture they come from and therefore how good a designer one can be is dictated by the culture designer comes from, if not greatly then at least to some degree. Your comments?

Jake Lockley

July 26, 2007 05:14 PM

Nonsense. If the CEO wants to be a designer, he should get a job as a designer, otherwise a CEO should be dealing with more important issues and trusting the people he hires to do the job they were hired for. What I think your real point is, a CEO should know what they want and be able to communicate/give appropriate qualified direction - this is where they tend to fail miserably. Most PEOPLE don't know what they want let alone know how to communicate creative direction effectively. If you want to point to Steve Jobs, I can only point to the Second Coming of Steve Jobs where he spent months designing a monitor stand and acted like it was the most innovative thing the world would ever see. Ego needs to get out of the way of a clear, qualifiable and quantifiable positioning statement and design direction. Your knowledge is only as vast as your ability to communicate it. If you know enough to be the end all be all of decision-making, then you should be able to communicate it clearly and delegate it -- the sign of a good manager.

Mike Harrop

August 12, 2007 10:40 PM

For usability......
Please prune article by 80%, comments by even more.
Please scrap legacy sorting of people as Brits, Turks, Irish, Chinese, African Americans, etc.
In design, as in genetics, no one is from anywhere and everyone is from everywhere.
Language and nationalism are the only true obstacles to Web 5.0.

Michael Hofmann

October 1, 2007 06:57 PM

thanks fore you intresting and time, iam need coropodenz and kontakt to new prazens and ( very strong Frends ) fore start of produktions and very beautiful design from my many work here in german, iam german...but iam need every help fore chance whith one nice worker team fore one intresting project start in china...this is my dream! i know all persons have one dream: please iam absolutli social person and i like worke whith my idee and another contry, iam learninh so much of industrialmechanicals here in german and work...of the produktions of design so much time... please anderstand my short live.... and kassel Michael h. thank you very much of yours intressting time.....Michaeln ( is one very old histori name ) ! and this is my live ...thanks..


February 7, 2008 12:25 PM

Hello Bruce,

nice article, with in my opinion only one mistake:

" Designers and design schools are in a global game, not a national one"

Its true that they are also in the Global game but more so in the game of creating products with an Identity.
E.g. if someone wants to by a Swiss Watch they want to by a Swiss watch not something that is made in switzerland but designed for a global mass market. If Someone wants to by Italien shoes they want to by shoes that are Italien not something that is made to appeal to the rest of the world. These all relates back to what you said about truth of products and authenticity.

As far as I am concerned we life in the age of refinement, like you stated, food is going back to local, everything is getting more boutique, but therefore you need to create products with a certain opinion, a specific cultural background or whatever creates an identity in the product and shows that the maker relates truely to it in a certain way. Or as the makers of Freitag say, if you want to make a great product you have to be close with your heart, otherwise people will sense that its not real.

bernd r. wehn

July 13, 2008 01:30 PM

... but the most CEO's are not design oriented - look at their office rooms. no style for art and design and much more in the company

Sumit Roy

May 7, 2009 04:10 PM


I am reading this in 2009 and you are still so ahead of your time.

But thank God you are.

To those who disagree with your view: Does a good conductor need to be a good musician? But more importantly, should a good conductor be a good composer?

Even if he isn't a good composer, he must be able to get into the head of the composer. Instead of just "managing the orchestra".

Love the word brand curator as well.

Ever want to visit India and give a talk?


June 15, 2009 07:54 PM

Bruce, congratulations. Fantastic. Inspire me a lot. I agree 100%. Ceo's MUST BE designers.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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