News|Consulting|29 Jan 2021|Kshanika Patel

Empowering Women Leaders in Design

A classroom full of designers at any college in the USA includes a comfortable mix of male and female students. But as their career progresses, there are fewer females than expected in senior-level positions.

Women occupy only 10% of top management positions in S&P 1500 companies, constitute only 11% of the top earners in Fortune 500 companies, and serve as only 12.1% of chief financial officers and the next three highest-paid executives at Fortune 500 companies. It has been a goal for many organisations to hire more senior women leaders for the past 30 years, but there has been little or no change.

Over the years, PARK has worked with many impactful and successful clients and helped many design professionals to accelerate their careers and become design leaders. With 21 years of experience, Co-Founder & Owner of PARK, Frans Joziasse, wrote an article, What Design Leaders do to get to the top? This article consists of a list of Ten Design Leadership Success Principles that will help designers succeed in their careers and become industry leaders.

Natalie Schraufnagel, Former Consultant at PARK, came across an opportunity to present these outstanding leadership principles at the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA) Women in Design Deep Dive 2020 to participants from all across the world. The goal was to inform the participants about the principles, to inspire them through the leading women in design that exemplify these principles, and to involve them by providing a tool to enhance their design leadership journey.

These principles were created for Design Leaders regardless of their gender and are presented by highlighting ten leading women in the design industry who exemplify these principles.

1. Connect & Integrate

Design’s natural ability to work holistically, create 360-degree value propositions, and build an organisation accordingly is one of the reasons that the C-suite can fall in love with a Design Leader!

Monica Dalla Riva, Vice President of Design & Customer Experience at Deutsche Telekom, believes Design should sit at the Leadership table from the very beginning. It is a new perspective that was introduced at Deutsche Telekom. This allows her team to design fully connected experiences and solutions across all touchpoints. Designers translate what customers truly desire and they strengthen trust through their user experience.

2. Own Design Thinking

Design Thinking positively impacts a wider culture when the adoption of Design Thinking is led by Design Leader who has a natural affinity and passion for the subject that shines through.

Ayse Birsle, Co-Founder of Birsel + Seck, is a designer, an innovator, and has learned the effectiveness of using design principles in solving complex problems. She has created unique processes like Deconstruction, Reconstruction, and she is known for her acclaimed workshops ‘Design the Life You Love’, and ‘Design the Work You Love’ by applying her unique processes to help people.

3. Start & End with The User

The best Design Leaders are advocates for the user from the start (by inspiring top management with the real future user needs to monitor the success of their offer) to the finish.

Anne Asensio, Head of Design at Dassault Systémes, is a champion of the user. As a Designer in the Automotive industry when she advocated for the importance of user needs in interior solutions and not just the exteriors. And now as the head, she fosters a culture of design excellence and shifted the focus from Techno-centered to Human-centered, and designed 3d systems with empathy.

4. Capture the Value

The most successful Design Leaders connect their design strategy and activities to corporate, innovation, and brand objectives to show the value of design.

Sarah Bellrichard, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience Design at Wells Fargo, understands the importance of combining the CX strategy with business objectives to show the value of design. She is a champion for User-Centered design methodologies that help create intuitive, learnable user experiences for Wells Fargo. Besides, she has been applying Design Thinking, which through executive support and exposure has helped reinforce Design Thinking’s value proposition at Wells Fargo.

5. Keep Making it Real

The best Design Leaders inspire and drive the future strategies of companies by making ideas tangible and empowering their teams to surprise and challenge the C-suite.

Elizabeth Goodrich, Co-Founder and Vice President of Manta Product Development Inc., has a deep history in innovative product development. She sees her role as a Designer to keep making the possible real. She inspires her client’s future strategies by presenting tangible solutions that create new visions of their products or services.

6. Formalise & Clarify

By diplomatically and professionally co-creating an operating model for design with top and middle management, design can significantly boost its performance, credibility, and recognition.

Hanna Harris, Chief Design officer for the city of Helsinki, Finland, has a background in Urban Research. She knows a comprehensive understanding of design creates conditions of both functioning everyday life and for solving global challenges. As a director of Archinfo Finland, she invests in architecture and design to be more visible in the Helsinki city strategy to remain internationally competitive.

7. Master Storytelling

Advocating design and inspiring others both internally and externally is a critical task for a Design Leader.

Katie Dill, Vice President and Head of Design at Lyft, has mastered the storytelling skills to build outstanding teams at Lyft. She is very active in storytelling to advocate design internally such as storytelling the customer experience and externally where she is a part of series like California by Design.

8. Democratise Understanding

By democratising the understanding of design, the activation of a Design Strategy is significantly accelerated, the appreciation is multiplied, and more doors begin to open.

Carole Bilson, a President of the Design Management Institute, has been democratising the understanding of Design to serve at numerous business boards and non-profit boards. She is persuasive of communication, a great presenter, who can influence perspective and gain consensus across organisational levels and functional areas. She is not only focused on democratising the understanding in the corporate world, but she is currently exploring the rapid change of design in society and how that is impacting the K2-12 education systems.

9. Designers as Business People

Many Design Leaders still want to explore, create, and make, but to be efficient and have an impact in a business environment you need to manage and lead Design through a business lens too.

Nanna Ulrich Gudum, Vice President of Design at The LEGO Group, knew that to have organic growth could not happen without the acceleration of the business professionalism of designers. Thus, The LEGO Design Academy was created. This training boosts the management and leadership experiences and qualities of the designers and helped establish design as a key innovation driver to develop new business development at LEGO.

10. Emotional Intelligence

Listening and looking, being empathetic towards peers, and empowering others to engage with Design gives Design Leaders credibility and space to operate.

Kathryn Best, an Associate Professor at the American University of Sharjah, and author of Design Management: Managing Design Strategy, Process, and Implementation. Several keys to her success include her ability to define Design Management systems, being empathetic towards her student’s needs, creating connections by providing real-life examples from the industry, and her passion to inspire change through design.

We have identified a leading woman for each principle, but these women encompass more than just one principle.

To complement these 10 principles further and learn from them, Natalie presented a Design Leadership Success Principle Tool. This tool is used to define the challenges, opportunities, and goals for personal development. It will help create awareness of your design leadership competencies to improve your performance as a design leader.

Design Leadership 10 success principles

So, if you are an aspiring leader, remember that you are not alone in this journey. We at PARK Academy have multiple courses that can help you accelerate your career and become a design leader.


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