Tailor Made: Private label learning platforms are helping CDOs transform design teams from the inside

September 21, 2021, 1:58 PM UTC

As vice president of design at GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Barraclough oversees the company’s top 35 brands in consumer healthcare. He’s a trained designer, has 30 years of industry experience, and is quick to point out just how difficult it is to talk about design. “Good design is invisible,” he says. “Bad design is glaringly obvious. Take Netflix. It’s beautiful to use. But, if I asked you to explain to me why, it is hard to do. It is the little things Netflix does to make it so seamless. The best design is invisible, so how do you prove the ROI of design?”

That question truly resides at the crux of any well-oiled design team. The way companies are addressing that today comes in various forms. Some companies, like Google and Salesforce, are creating their own brands of coursework to bolster talent and promote design in the hiring pool and among their users. Others, like IBM, are leveraging in-house programs to foster a shared toolkit and mindset around problem solving, innovation, and design thinking, keeping all functions of the organization speaking the same language. And then, at a higher level, some businesses are resourcing outside help, pointing to a need for design leaders to grow and innovate at scale, while addressing stakeholders across disciplines from sales to design to the bottom line and more. “Driving design across a global organization is an inclusion challenge across all levels,” says Eric Quint, former CDO at 3M and co-author of the upcoming book Design Leadership Ignited: Elevating Design at Scale. “It is important that the design function is owning and leading these programs. An external team can well support the introduction and training of an approach, but in the end a passionate follow-through is needed to make it part of the DNA of a company.”

Training a new wave of talent

Justin Maguire, CDO at cloud-based CRM software company Salesforce, is quite clear that design is a core part of how the business operates every single day. And, as the company and its offerings grow, so does its need for skilled designers. That’s why in June Salesforce launched its User Experience Design Certification. Based on the company’s online learning platform, the certification aims to build human-centered design expertise throughout the Salesforce ecosystem. “At its infancy, design focused on visuals but now we’re really honing in on what we call at Salesforce, relationship design,” says Maguire. “Relationship design helps Salesforce designers solve complex problems and design ethical, equitable, and sustainable solutions on the Salesforce platform that serve both businesses and communities.” Maguire hopes that through these courses, Salesforce is not only adding value for its customers, but creating its own educational path for designers to build and develop their careers. 

The approach is somewhat of a sidestep from Google’s, which began its brand of UX career certificates in March. (Google had launched a similar IT certificate in 2018, which now accounts for 50,000 graduates and an 82% career advancement rate just six months from completion.) Google’s program is a bit broader, aimed at entry level job seekers regardless of prior experience or education. Still, it’s an effort to build a talent pool where there may not have been one before. Catherine Courage, VP of Consumer User Experience at Google, says the certificate program is really about leveling the playing field. “The program has specifically helped underrepresented graduates enter in-demand fields: 53% of graduates identify as female, Black, Latino, or veterans,” she says. “Our aim is to make education more accessible and the job market more equitable by helping people get the skills they need for in-demand roles, regardless of their prior experience or education level. We are committed to ensuring the opportunities created by technology are truly available to everyone.”

Fueling cross-disciplined teams

Design thinking isn’t new at IBM, and the company’s effort to keep the practice going and growing is constant. “The key phrase is cross-discipline,” says Doug Powell, Vice President of Design at IBM. “That for us at IBM is real — to get designers and their cross disciplinary stakeholders working together. It is essential to making everything work.” Over the last four years, the company has built coursework (and a related badge system) around design thinking as part of its internal learning platform. With two to three hours of coursework employees can earn a practitioner badge. For the co-creator level, participants will need to devote a few months of work to complete a project and submit the artifacts involved. The highest level – the coach badge – is “essentially a black belt in design thinking,” says Powell.

One thing to consider, says Quint, is that design thinking is not a process, but a tool set. And this type of education isn’t about making people who aren’t designers into designers, but instead about creating “a culture of collaborative creativity.” Says Quint: “It is important to let people experience what design thinking is, how it works and when to apply it.” Romelia Flores is an IBM Distinguished Engineer with 78 U.S. patents. She’s earned a coach badge, the highest level of IBM design thinking credentials, and now conducts design thinking bootcamps for IBM teams. “My first experience with enterprise design thinking was when I attended training to obtain my Practitioner badge,” she says. “As a software architect, it ’clicked’ with me in that I felt I could collect prototype requirements more efficiently by actually interacting with my clients and their end users. Over time, I obtained additional badges (Co-Creator, Coach, Advocate, Team Essentials for AI) which enabled me to gain in-depth knowledge of the practice of design thinking.” 

Today, Powell estimates more than half the company has been trained and badged in design thinking, allowing IBM to reach a critical mass of non-designers who are well-versed in the principles and behaviors of design thinking. “They know how to behave in a meeting or workshop,” he says. “That very simple upscaling makes a massive difference to the efficiency of that team to get ideas to market as quickly as possible.” In terms of ROI, Powell says, benefits are clear: IBM has enjoyed improved employee engagement, a drop in attrition rates, and roughly three times return on its initial investment in the program.

Building design leadership

Design management consultancies like Frog, McKinsey, and PARK have handfuls of case studies detailing how they’ve helped clients bring new products to market, shave time off of in-house processes, build better, more agile teams, solve problems, and generate new ideas. Twelve years ago, global design consultancy PARK, developed a program for design-led LEGO to restructure their internal education platform. Now, the company uses that coursework, called GROW, to help CDOs take their design teams to the next level in a corporate organizational structure. “They are no longer designing things,” says Jay Peters, who serves as Managing Director at PARK. “They can’t come in and talk about radius and colors and curves. They need to talk about budgets. They are managing the ‘how’ and leading the ‘why.’” 

At GSK, Barraclough has a team of 40 designers worldwide who are embedded throughout GSK’s business groups. While design skills are critical and design thinking fosters collaboration, Barraclough says, the GROW curriculum has helped his team become an indispensable part of the organization at GSK. “If you want to create an experience, what’s important is design linking,” he says. “It’s not a fish hook. It’s like Velcro. It’s 100 little things that add up. You need to empower the skills of design linking across the silos of an organization. It is a leadership skill you need to build.” Barraclough is talking about value creation. Design school doesn’t necessarily teach ROI or how to create value within a business, for shareholders or for customers. “That’s what GROW does,” says Barraclough. “It gives designers a different perspective on design in the world.” The real tipping point, he says, comes when the conversation in the room shifts from, “Do we need to invite the designer to the meeting?” to “The meeting can’t begin until the designer arrives.”

Nicole Gull McElroy


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Brainstorm A.I. 2021: Fortune‘s Brainstorm A.I. conference will bring together the leading minds in tech to examine the issues shaping the A.I. revolution. Hear from a slate of speakers in Boston, MA on November 8-9 including: DoorDash Head of Data Science and Machine Learning Alok Gupta, Dell Technologies Global Chief Technology Officer John Roese, and Dr. Andrew Ng, founder and CEO of Landing AI. Apply to attend now.


Design for climate positive

Logitech CEO Bracken Darrell formally committed to a carbon neutral footprint this year with the goal of being net zero and climate positive by 2030. The computer hardware company has long been lauded for its dedication to innovation and boundary-breaking thinking, and this announcement pushes Logitech further into the forefront of renewable energy and an investment in restoration programs. This year, the company will plant more than 40 million trees in China, as well as begin to invest in nature-based renewables and projects to remove carbon. Darrell has called the effort Design for Sustainability and aims to eliminate carbon footprint before it even arises with a carbon neutral approach woven into every design and engineering process at Logitech.


Innovation for post-COVID work

Lenovo released two new game changing computers this month: IdeaPad Slim 7 Carbon ($1,290) and IdeaPad Slim 7 Pro ($1,449). The ultra-thin laptops will be available in October and were designed for people working both in and out of the office. The Carbon weighs less than five pounds, while the Pro comes in at less than three. In addition, Lenovo promises up to 14.5 hours of battery life and the ability to sustain military grade durability tests.


Smart glasses on Facebook

Facebook teamed up with Ray-Ban to launch its own version of smart glasses. The new line, called Ray-Ban Stories, can take photos, record video, answer phone calls and play music and podcasts. The glasses come in more than 20 styles and have a base price point of $299. The project was led by a team at Facebook Reality Labs and aims to help people capture their lives and leverage technology, without taking them totally out of the moment to grab their phone to snap a photo or record video. The real question is, are we ready for them?


Courtesy of PARK
Courtesy of PARK
Courtesy of PARK

Design can deliver a great deal of value, but only when it is well lead and managed!” - Jay Peters, Managing Director, PARK

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