Now Trending, The “In-House Designer"

By tapping into company growth opportunities, designers and engineers will vie for management positions.

The second annual "Design, Mode d’emploi" forum was held last December at the Paris Commodities Exchange. It was the chance to highlight the growing interest of businesses in hiring "in-house designers." This trend falls in line with the strategic relevance of design. New career opportunities are popping up everywhere.

Years ago a round table on the career opportunities available to in-house designers would have consisted of pointers on successful cover letter writing, a winning resumé, and the fundamentals of a designer’s “book” that shows off the applicant’s technical skill sets and competencies. But the event organized by the Agency for the Promotion of Industrial Creation (APCI) and led by Antoinette Lemens revealed something of a quite different nature.

The maturity and responsibility of those who participated in the round table was palpable. It helped that this round table was different. For starters, there were no senior designers in attendance, nor were there fleeting remarks on the importance of teamwork or on the difficulties of working in a corporate setting. Instead, the participants were HR directors and managers, who expressed their dedication to bringing on board new talent, perfectly aware that the hiring process is a career-driven one. The idea is to tap into the mid- and long-term growth opportunities at companies that don’t systematically think to designate positions of responsibility to designers. The scope of competencies, they maintained, has expanded to include management, leadership, and an understanding of what’s at stake, as well as the economic contexts wherein companies either prosper or perish. This development has made it so management positions will be up for grabs for engineers and designers alike.

Acknowledging that the field of design, too, is confronted with the same obstacles is a no-brainer. Rehashing talk around design as a strategic discipline and indispensable on the innovation front for companies with their mind on the future just doesn’t cut it anymore. The same goes for companies having to invest in design for the purposes of becoming competitive, staying ahead of the competition and asserting their identity and brand.

The time has now come to walk the talk. Management positions that emphasize design’s leverage in corporate strategy now need to be available and accessible to designers. Ability, desire, ambition are key. Without them, designers are destined to be reduced to mere “doers” who ultimately fall short when tackling the new challenges facing companies. The fine line between ambition and duty enables us to “express loud and clear” design’s purpose in practice and potency.

“No engineer has ever deprived himself from being a boss, so why should a designer?”, asked Armand Hatchuel.  Our time no longer requires pushing buttons for the sake of pushing buttons, but rather a necessity, if not duty, for doing so.

Companies are waking up to the reality that designers cannot stay locked up in cross-functional, creation-nurtured laboratories forever and excluded from the strategic decision-making process. We need to make them leadership-ready. Why? For the simple reason that they are designers.

Christian Guellerin has been president of Cumulus, the International Association of Universities and Schools of Design, Art and Media since 2007. Under his leadership the organization grew from 80 to 178 establishments in 44 countries in 2008; today they’re expanding to China and India. He is also the executive director of the École de design Nantes Atlantique, which trains professionals to create and innovate for socio-economic development, with an interface between technology, economics, and the sciences. He writes frequently on design and pedagogy and teaches in several schools and universities in France and abroad.

Read more posts from Christian Guellerin here.

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