Build an In-House Digital Design Team for Business Innovation

When CEOs are prepared to invest in digital design, CIOs need to support the success of in-house design teams.

A major retail bank has more than 120 digital design staff, working in agile project teams on a range of products that are critical to customer experience. It’s a huge commitment by the bank to digital design. Yet the designers feel marginalized, their work poorly understood and underappreciated by technical staff in their team. The bank risks losing key talent, which would impact the broader business strategy.

Gartner research shows that industries with a faster rate of digital transformation are increasingly hiring digital designers, led by media and telecoms, insurance, health payers and financial services.

For many enterprises it makes sense for an internal design agency to report directly to the CIO

During Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo™ on the Gold Coast, Australia, Gartner VP Analyst Brian Prentice said CIOs play a critical role in the success of an enterprise’s digital design efforts.

“The key to success in digital design is the CIO’s ability to retain talent in a hypercompetitive market,” he said. “It’s difficult to attract designers into a traditional enterprise unless their job title, role, responsibilities and career opportunities are relevant in the broader design industry. They want to work for an organization that takes design seriously.”

Demand for digital design exploding

Digital design is the process used to create compelling digital experiences that engage customers and employees. Over the last decade, the demand for digital design services has exploded, as enterprises strive to improve customer, citizen and employee experiences.

For an organization that has the occasional project requiring digital design work, it makes sense to work with an outside agency. There are thousands of digital agencies providing competent design services globally. But as the volume of work increases, so too is the number of enterprises seeking to insource this work.

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Establish an internal agency

When CEOs make the decision to invest in digital design, they are faced with two challenges: how to attract design talent and how to organize them. They tend to take one of two options, each with strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Create a centralized agency. The design team is recognized as a distinct agency by the rest of the enterprise. The number of projects undertaken is based on resource availability. The full design process is applied to all projects or products. This is the best way to incubate a design culture.
  2. Create an embedded agency. As in the bank example, this option broadens the scope of design work and adds value to agile practices, but unless carefully managed, designers may feel marginalized and leave.

CIOs are more likely to be working alongside a chief design officer, but for many enterprises it makes sense for an internal design agency to report directly to the CIO, according to Prentice.

“Regardless of the reporting structure chosen by the CEO, the CIO plays a critical role in ensuring that the internal design agency works effectively with product managers and development teams,” he said. “Otherwise, they often find themselves managing a perpetual cycle of staff churn.”

Attract and retain talent

Finding and hiring design talent is made more difficult because universities are lagging in creating degree programs in digital design. This means enterprises will need to recruit staff from digital design agencies.

CIOs need to collaborate with the CEO, the head of HR and the chief design officer or equivalent role to devise a strategy to attract and retain talent, with three key components.

  1. Create formal design roles that map to those found in the agency world, for example, digital product designer, visual designer, UX researcher, creative director and design operations manager.
  2. Craft a compelling recruitment narrative that conveys the opportunity for design innovation to potential recruits.
  3. Recognize and reward designers’ contribution in the product development process once they are hired. CIOs will need strong leadership skills to ensure that development teams under their control utilize the role of the designer at the right time and in the right way.

Gartner clients who are IT leaders can read more in How to Create a Digital Design Team and Best Apply It Using an Agency Model by Brian Prentice.

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