Opinion

Airbnb rebrand studio: Why design should be at every boardroom table

5 min read

30 January 2015

Ben Wright, COO at global brand and creative agency DesignStudio, explains why every business, no matter what it makes or sells, should recognise the power and financial value of good design.

Recent figures released by the UK department for Media, Culture and Sport showed the value of design has rocketed in the past year. The creative sector as a whole has grown at triple the rate of other sectors. But what will drive its continual growth over 2015? Where can we find the evidence that being design-led has a positive effect on business growth and are we about to see a fundamental switch in the way that businesses are structured, in order to realize this potential success?

Our overseas US cousins seem to be leading the way when it comes to design led thinking within the C-suite. The rise of the chief creative officer (CCO) has grown rapidly in the past 12 months, with a number of global brands including Disney and Sony Entertainment creating this position, signalling a growing trend for putting design at the centre of a company’s strategy. One of our own clients, Airbnb, is co-founded by CEO Brian Chesky. A graduate himself from Rhode Island School of Design, the hugely successful business has been built on the fundamental principle that design should be at the heart of all business thinking.


Some UK brands such as Virgin and O2 already recognise this and include designers and creatives in their senior executive teams in addition to – and sometimes in place of – heads of marketing. BA have also recently announced changes to their internal management to align brand and marketing with the commercial department; in part, as a recognition that great things happen when creativity and commercial are aligned. 

The shift speaks volumes and is being driven in no small part by a new mass expectation of good design. Consumers have become increasingly aware of design in every aspect of their lives, demanding a slick and intuitive user experience on the apps we order our shopping on through to the packaging of the lunch we buy. We demand products and services to be simplified, better thought through; more elegant and more enjoyable to use. 

Companies need to put design at the heart of their business strategy to steer innovation and to continually improve. This is more that just marketing, design thinking – and by that, I mean a vision behind ways of working, is at the heart of generating real value to differentiate services or products to help sustain a competitive advantage for all areas of a business from HR right through to customer service. 

New era for design-led business

As we enter a new era for design-led business, businesses are increasingly adopting a design-orientated approach as a route to differentiation. It’s a recognition of the power of design in helping them engage with and appeal to an audience more expectant of “beauty” than ever before.

With the proliferation of platforms and interfaces making it harder than ever for firms to achieve beauty – and consistency – user experience is increasingly customer led. Design can help an organisation to become more customer-centric by helping them to connect with their audiences emotionally, across all touch points. This creates an experience that lives up to expectation and puts the customer at the core.

Having a creatively driven C-suite at the helm, and design firmly on the boardroom table, organisations are waking up to the fact that they can add significant value to their business. Yet it’s not a silver bullet. Businesses should not look to good design as a single way to transform a poor product, strategy or idea – it’s not an innovation tool that can be switched on and off to revamp existing offerings. It needs to run as a thread throughout the culture and heartbeat of a business.

Success is born from every part of a business performing well and in unison. Businesses that understand quality is paramount and use design as a competitive advantage will win out. This philosophy is one Apple has taught us so well, and is why it has differentiated so clearly from its competitors. 

CEOs can, and should, champion design as a business driver and core business-strategy that runs through the company. As a strengthening economic climate leads to greater confidence, the result can be a whole new level of creativity and transformation for business.

Ben Wright is COO at London and San Francisco-based creative design and branding strategy agency DesignStudio.