Design Leadership Ignited

  • 2022

  • Design Research

Designed In:


This Stanford University Press publication is the outcome of a research project on design leadership involving 59 design executives. Our research provides insights for design leaders managing in-house design teams on how to elevate design at scale and establish design excellence. It is a unique collaboration between industry and academia.

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  • An increasing number of firms invest in in-house design teams and extend the influence of design to the executive level to stimulate performance. Effective design leadership is essential to optimise the value design can bring. However, not much is known about how design leaders should operate in practice. In this research, we argue and find that effective leadership goes beyond stimulating design’s integration into the fabric of the organisation to actualise the value of design; it also requires carefully curating designs’ ‘differentness’ compared to other functions or knowledge areas, as this differentness is what adds value in the first place.

  • Based on our research, we provide practices, frameworks and tools that help design leaders to create acceptance and appreciation for design and establish a thriving environment for their creative teams. We elaborate on how to formulate and execute a design strategy; how to create an organisational structure and taxonomy for design; talent management; and how to scale design from a quantitative and qualitative perspective. Furthermore, we describe design leadership behaviours that facilitate the journey towards design excellence. In particular, we cover how design leaders can balance often-contradictory objectives and activities in a both/and manner, effectively navigating between opposing options.

  • Our research provides practical advice about design leadership and hopefully inspires design leaders, both current and emerging, to become more knowledgeable and confident. When design leadership is effective, design as an organisational capability will flourish, positively impacting firm performance. Secondly, we hope our research guides business managers on how to effectively collaborate with their design peers. Finally, by providing examples and insights from design executives working in different cultural and organisational contexts, we help design leaders to enhance their strategic impact within organisations; more strategic impact increases opportunity for design leaders to realise company outcomes that are desirable and sustainable.

  • The research outcomes resulted from an effective collaboration between industry and academia. The co-authors were Eric Quint, a senior executive with more than 20 years of professional experience in design leadership roles, including as Chief Brand and Design Officer at 3M. He joined two leading academics, Gerda Gemser, Professor of at University of Melbourne, and Giulia Calabretta, Associate Professor of Strategic Value of Design at Delft University of Technology, who have completed numerous studies on design management, and published their findings widely. The research is published by Stanford University Press, a renowned academic publisher and part of the prestigious University. This publisher is very selective in terms of manuscripts it will publish. The authors were required to engage in a rigorous and extensive review and editing process. The publisher specifically chose to position the book as a management book, not a design book. This strategy assists in evaluating design and design leadership based on its commercial merit rather than solely its creative merit.