Building and scaling capabilities
Q – PARK is celebrating 25 years, how did the journey begin, and why ‘PARK’?
In the mid 1980’s after graduating from Delft University with a Masters in Product Design Engineering, I co-founded my own design agency in Rotterdam working with small and large organisations, designing and developing new products for B2C and B2B customers.
In the 1990’s, we started to notice a trend – we were delivering highly innovative solutions, yet many would not make it to market. We of course expected a natural rate of failure but the balance didn’t seem right. I started to explore the reasons WHY product development stopped and/or the launch of new products failed.
It became evident that the gap between what the designers created and what the company and their customers really needed was bigger than I had realised. Digging deeper, it became clear that this was due to our own lack of business understanding, weak communication between our agency and the stakeholders at the client side, insufficient design briefings as well as poor client relationship management.
As agency owner, my natural reaction was to offer our clients help in overcoming these challenges by expanding our service offer, yet this was rarely accepted. The reality was that I didn’t have the business knowledge and awareness to navigate the issue. At that point I decided to extract the design management tasks as an independent offer, which Tim Selders and I framed as ‘Strategic Design’. At the same time, I developed my business understanding by graduating with an MBA in Design Management from Westminster University in London.
PARK was eventually founded in 1998 to help to get the best out of designers by creating our clients design strategies. Strategies that made sense for the business and their customers. The proposition was (and still is) unique, we decided that PARK would not deliver the actual design work, we’ve always left this in the hands of the expert agencies and client teams – instead, we focused on improving how design was being led and managed so that the design and business can excel in harmony.
The name PARK stems from the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace near the Marunouchi Business District in Tokyo – a park in which I would take my lunch break whilst visiting Japan during the 1990’s. A park is a place where locals go to reflect, relax and dream – just a few of the things that we’ve always tried to facilitate here at PARK.
Q – What are your proudest moments during these past 25 years?
Of course, the moment when I co-founded the company with Tim Selders stands out. At that moment we had full confidence that we had spotted this incredibly unique business opportunity to help design leaders establish design as a core competence, something that didn’t exist at the time and something that we were both hugely energised by. ‘Empowering design leaders’ was, and still is our focus.
Beyond that founding moment it’s not so easy to answer! Over these past 25 years there have been hundreds of projects and thousands of moments where we’ve supported our clients in a steady, step-by-step way, but perhaps some of the longer-term relationships stand out.
Successful long-term relationships with companies such as LEGO, Haleon (formerly GSK CH), Dräger Safety, Grundfos, Unilever, Adria Mobil, Sony, KIA/Hyundai and Datev have been especially rewarding. The way in which we have helped to build their design capabilities and their design leadership excellence over a period of time is phenomenal and something I, and of course our team (now and in the past) are very proud of.
The launch of Grow, our Design Leadership Academy has also been a tremendous success. It started life as the LEGO Design Academy, which we then evolved to become a global platform with cross-company programs in multiple countries alongside in-company programs with Bosch, Accenture Song and many others. The blended learning approach with a heavy emphasis on face-to-face tutoring has been a real success, and we’ve now educated over 2000 students, helping them to increase their impact as leaders and accelerate their careers – it feels very personal and very rewarding.
Lastly, when I think about the PARK team over time, I can get very emotional. We’ve collectively achieved so many great things for our clients and students, always working with dedication and passion and a deep-rooted belief that design leadership really matters. I’m so proud of every individual that has come through the PARK door.
Q – What’s been the biggest challenge/s you’ve faced since founding the company?
The dynamics of the design industry. Over the last few decades design has become far more complex. The remit of design has become much broader and deeper, with ever-expanding fields of design expertise, such as product, service, social, sustainable, digital and business design. This evolving complexity places a heavy demand on anyone involved in design management or leadership. At PARK we have to continually evolve in a synchronised way, and it’s a never-ending challenge that takes constant awareness, self-education, brain power and investment!
Q – How has the role of the Design Leadership evolved over the past 25 years, and where is it heading?
Design leadership has definitely become more prominent and expansive in its remit. Whereas in the past user-centricity was considered enough, today the design leader has to balance the needs of the user, the business and the planet, and within each there is a multitude of challenges.
Design Leaders that want to be successful today need a broad bundle of competencies, they need creative intelligence, emotional intelligence and business intelligence. This, combined with the elevated presence in the organisational hierarchy, means that the professional development needs of the design leader today are far greater than before.
To help them on this journey we recently formalised our coaching offer in this space, and I see this as a huge opportunity area, not only for PARK, but for our clients too.
The future of Design Leadership will be driven by the continually evolving geo-political, societal and environmental context. The most celebrated Design Leaders will be those that can continually evolve –positioning themselves as the interpreters, navigators, and solution providers for the complex, inter-connected challenges ahead.
Q – What’s the one piece of advice you would give to every leader of design?
Stay true to yourself, be kind to your team, remain relevant to your customers and be responsible for the well-being of the planet.