What now, what next, where to?

The design management context (click image to download pdf)

Design management reaches the age of 45 (counting from the first publication in 1965) and is now in the middle of its midlife crisis, if we look on the current debates in the design management community. Inspired by Elvis, I raise the questions: What now, what next, where to?

What now?
The fight is over! Looking back on the history of design, management and design management, we can recognize that design gained credence in the business world and is today recognized as a valid business tool. This are not the credits of the designers alone, but was supported through paradigm shifts in the management discipline as well as the design discipline. Today, we need no longer prove the value of design, instead, we need to get the most out of it, in every single business situation.

What next?
Design and design management have experienced different generations of theories. In its first generation design focused on the object, in the second on the process and in the third on the user.

[1] Similar shifts can be seen in management and design management in almost parallel steps. For design management this has been illustrated by Brigitte Borja de Mozota[2], using Findeli’s Bremen Model as a framework. Looking at the current developments in design management, we will face changes in following areas:


  1. We will recognize more integrated education models, to educate T-shaped professionals that have general knowledge in a few disciplines (e.g. management and engineering) and specific knowledge in a single domain (e.g. design).
  2. Companies will continue to educate design managers from within to better match the companies challenges, but creating a need for a cultural context, where design managers prefer to stay (carriere paths, innovative thinking etc.)
  3. Design managers will need to have stronger knowledge exchanges across industries (like Raymond events or best practice exchange), leading to a more sophisticated and reflected position in the company.


  1. Companies will shift their focus from small T innovations (innovations involving only one discipline, like chemists) to big T innovations (innovations involving several disciplines, like design, ethnography, lead user etc.), making it essential to break down silos of departments.
  2. The increasing speed of the market makes it necessary to have more flexible processes and teams (e.g.task forces like concept labs) and Rapid Business Prototyping (business beta versions, like Daimler Car Sharing).


  1. Hidden design costs have to be uncovered and projects have to be managed more efficient, making it necessary to make accurate calculation of design costs.
  2. Design managers still need to continuously learn and use the language of the business, to make design to an essential asset of the company rather than a nice-to-have surface phenomenon.

Where to?
It is difficult to predict where design management is heading to; but there are still a few white gaps on the landscape of design management research.[3] However, design management education and research often fail to keep up with business reality, while design management practices are busy with solving day-to-day challenges and do not engage in academic discussions. Looking at both, academic research and business pratice, what do you think is worth to look at and not just another ephemeral fashion?

Alain Findeli, 2005: “The eclipse of the product in design theory” keynote lecture, European Academy of Design conference EAD6, “Design system evolution”, Bremen, March 29-31
Brigitte Borja de Mozota, 2006: “A theoretical model for Design in Management science according to the paradigm shift of the Design profession: from management as a constraint to management science as an opportunity”, 1st International Design Management Symposium D2B, Shanghai Jiao Tong University March 16-19
Ulla Johansson and Jill Woodilla, 2008: Towards a better paradigmatic partnership between design and management