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Logitech president and CEO Bracken Darrell outlines the three stages of becoming a design-led company and why so few are in the final stage

May 25, 2022, 2:41 PM UTC

When Logitech president and CEO Bracken Darrell took the helm of the company a decade ago, he wasn’t planning to leave before it began to prioritize design. “What I really wanted to build was a design company,” he explained on Monday at Fortune’s Brainstorm Design conference.

Darrell had previously served as president of consumer products company Braun, headquartered in Germany and made famous by renowned German designer Dieter Ram. Darrell said Rams’ work and legacy have informed his personal understanding of design’s place in business. 

Despite his intention to transform the company with design, Darrell said he encountered initial pushback, especially from Logitech’s engineering department. He said engineers feared he would “ruin this company” and turn it “into a fashion company.”

Over the years, he’s won over the skeptics and brought Logitech to what he says is stage two of the three stages of being a design-led company. It’ll take hard work to get to that final stage; Darrell said he doesn’t know any company that’s there yet.

Stage 1: Design is a secondary consideration

Darrell explained that when a company is in stage one, design is in no way a priority. Instead of integrating design into the entire manufacturing process, “You kind of decorate the products at the end,” said Darrell.

“Most companies are not there anymore,” he added.

Stage 2: User-centered design

Stage two is where most companies are, including Logitech. It’s characterized by building products around users. 

“Stage two is really where the action is for almost all of us,” said Darrell. “That’s where we are.”

Stage 3: Fully integrated design

If stage two involves some amount of design integration, in stage three it’s a company’s life force. A company in stage three turns design processes inward: “In its fully developed form, all of the company reinvents in the end using design,” said Darrell. In stage three, every part of a company is “constantly redesigned.” 

“I envision these walls that are constantly moving and changing every time you walk into them,” said Darrell. “Of course, that’s some futuristic thing, but that’s the real idea.” 

One company that might be engaging in that type of thinking already is Walmart. Valerie Casey, the company’s chief design officer, said during the conference that the company has been turning to design to streamline its onboarding. 

New workers, she explained, need to learn dozens of Walmart-specific products—a process that requires extensive training. “You’re talking about dozens and dozens of hours of training that could be averted if you… got rid of some of those things and then created and applied a design language,” she said.

As a result, Walmart launched a redesigned app to help those workers learn the company’s tools and services.

How can businesses get there?

Darrel said that stage three is aspirational: “I think it’s something to shoot for and we’re working on it now and see if we can get there.”

But what’s holding back businesses from trying? Darrell said it has to come from the top.

“It’s conviction of the CEO, it’s that simple,” he said. “You can know it’s the right thing to do sort of quietly, you can read about it, you can hear about it, and maybe even your kids tell you about it, but until you feel it and you say it has to happen, then it isn’t going to happen very fast.”

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