What is Design Management?

This posting is for Annkathrin Sonn ;-), the new person in charge for Corporate Communications at the Zollverein School of management and design in Essen/Germany. Annkathrin recently joined the Zollverein School and while having a conversation with her last Tuesday I’ve learned that she’s highly interested in the intersection of business, management & design. As with everyone who’s not in too deep into the topic she finally asked for my perspective/definition on/of Design Management … ;-)

Well, somehow this is a real “killer question” since the scope of the design management (at least from my still limited ;-) profession is quite broad. Basically a good starting point to narrow down the field is to make a semantic distinction. Consequently Design Management can be a) The Management of the Design Process as well as b) The Design of the Management Process. Accordingly you can also replace the nouns with verbs resulting in: a) to manage the design process or b) to design the management process. The scope of this semantic space is comprehensive and offers many nodes to enter the domain.

After all my past experiences with business professionals as well as students entering the field showed that they mostly tend to see Design Management closely related to option a) “to manage the design process”. Interestingly this is also the dominant perspective which you will mostly find in Germany (if there is an articulated one at all ;-). This might be due to the fact that traditionally German design has always been strong in the area of product design and consequently senior designers or industrial design agencies mostly identify their responsibilities in the field of “operationally managing the design process” both internally and/or for their clients.

However like many other business disciplines design has never been a static domain as well. Today designers shape products as well as processes. In particular the emergence of digital technologies does enable designers to test and prototype processes and products long before marketing or management has considered thinking about them. And this is particularly true for all of the three main design domains: product, graphic and digital design. Consequently designers are able to raise their voice far earlier in the development process of products and services as they were used to be in the past. Therefore prototyping what actually can be done by using mock-ups, CAD Tools and even 3D empowered PDFs are powerful means to communicate the contribution and consequently value of design. Finally the early engagement of designers in the concept phase releases the design discipline from being responsible for narrowed field of styling only.

As a matter of fact this development requires designers to think about products and processes in a more holistic way as well. Earlier integration into the development process & discussion clearly requires the consideration of far more product/process stakeholders than in the past.

However let’s return to Annkathrin’s quest for a definition of Design Management. It’s almost eight years ago now that the Design Management Institute published an article called “18 views on the definition of Design Management” (DMI Journal, Summer 1998) where 18 executives from various disciplines were asked for their views on the field. As a matter of course you can clearly see the professional background from which the definitions arise (for some more quotes surf this blog), but interestingly each time I re-read the article I find a different perspective which I like most.

In the context of this posting I’ve liked the definition of Sohrab Vossughi, President of ZIBA Design most since it describes the changed level of design integration as described above quite well:

“Communication is the essence of design management. Products, uniforms, buildings, Web sites — design management can make a contribution in any area in which communication takes place. The newest frontier is process design. Designers should look beyond the conventional activities, such as packaging, graphics and product design. Designers have an important role to play in defining how companies use information. How is product information documented and communicated? How are new employees trained? How can the customer experience be simplified and refined?”

Anything to add, dear readers? ;-) What are your views or definitions?

2 Responses to “What is Design Management?”

  1. Vol. 2: design-management.de Says:

    What is Design Management?…

    In the light of the recent discussion we’ve had at Niti Bhan’s blog about the impact of strategy on design thinking I’d thought that it might be useful to re-post a blog posting I’ve written for the brand new Zollverein School …

  2. ayman Says:


Leave a Reply