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The Right Way to Scale Design Operations and Systems

The Right Way to Scale Design Operations and Systems

Welcome to The Zista Podcast. In our latest episode, we delve deep into the fascinating world of design management and unveil the secrets to scaling design operations and systems, while laying bare the path to building a remarkable career in this ever-evolving field.

Join us as we sit down with the illustrious Jon Denham, The Chair for Design Management and Service Design at SCAD. With a portfolio spanning industries ranging from consumer products to food and pharma, Jon brings a wealth of expertise to the discussion. 

Get ready to explore the boundless career opportunities, growth prospects, and the inevitable challenges that lie on the path to design management success.

Step into the captivating world of design management and embark on an extraordinary journey towards scaling design operations and systems. In our latest episode, we delve into uncharted territories, where we unravel the enigma behind design management and lay bare the secrets to building a stellar career in this exhilarating field.

Join us as we sit down with Jon Denham, the Chair for Design Management and Service Design at SCAD. With an impressive background encompassing a BA & MFA in Industrial Design, and extensive work experience with leading manufacturers in consumer products, food, and pharma, Jon brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the conversation.

Together, we venture into the realm of design management, where career opportunities abound, growth is inevitable, and challenges become stepping stones to success. Prepare to broaden your horizons as Jon shares invaluable insights, offering a glimpse into the exciting possibilities and potential that await those who dare to embrace the world of Design Management.

Get ready to explore the captivating intersection of creativity, strategy, and organizational excellence. The Zista Podcast invites you to join us on this extraordinary expedition.


  • The discipline of design management will continue to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs and expectations of consumers and businesses.
  • Key trends in design management include the increasing digital transformation and the emergence of new communication channels and opportunities.
  • Leaders in design management must consider both present and future work, anticipating the impact of projects on the market in the coming years.
  • Four critical values for scaling up an organization in design management are talent acquisition, effective processes, creating a positive physical and psychological environment, and leadership support.
  • A supportive environment is crucial for the success of design management, attracting talent and enabling impactful changes within an organization.
  • Design managers must navigate challenges such as DEI, sustainability, and globalization by being disciplined, agnostic, and adaptable in their approach.
  • Aspiring design students should embrace a diverse skill set, be open to collaboration with different disciplines, and stay agile and flexible in the face of evolving trends and demands.

Q: What is design management?

A: Jon explains that design management is the process of setting up conditions within an organization, whether it’s for profit or non-profit, that harnesses creativity to make a difference and facilitate business growth. These conditions refer to how a group of creatives operates and how their talents can be best utilized to help the organization thrive in the most effective way.

Q: How can one pursue a career in design management, and what are some key areas that design management influences?

A: Jon explains that there are various pathways to enter the field of design management. For example, SCAD offers a specific course focused on design management. However, historically, people have come into design management through different routes. Jon himself began as an industrial designer and later joined a pharmaceutical company where he initially worked on industrial design projects. Over time, he had the opportunity to broaden the impact of creativity within the organization. He took on the responsibility of managing graphics production, which allowed him to bring design to the forefront and influence the organization’s direction in a more hands-on way. The impact of design management can be quite significant and can be tailored based on the organization’s specific needs. In Jon’s case, his pathway into design management started with industrial design and evolved as he recognized opportunities to expand his influence and apply his skills more broadly with a creative perspective.

Q: Where does design management typically operate, and how is the discipline evolving?

A: The operational scope of design management can vary depending on the organization. However, design or design management plays a role not only in driving innovation but also in ensuring that the innovation is effectively integrated into products, brands, or services. Jon emphasizes a notable quote that highlights the consumer’s perspective: they only witness the execution of a product or service and may not be aware of the extensive strategy and development processes involved.  In terms of the discipline’s evolution, Jon believes that design management will continue to adapt and respond to the changing needs and expectations of consumers and businesses.

Q: What courses does SCAD offer in Design Management, and what are some key trends on students’ minds?

A: Jon provides an overview of the courses offered by SCAD, mentioning that they have over 43 disciplines and more than 100 courses. These cover a wide range of creative outlets for effective communication and branding. Jon specifically works in the School of Business Innovation, which closely collaborates with the School of Design. The goal is to integrate business aspects into design and design management, to shape the direction of brands, companies, and organizations. This strategic overview then leads to collaboration with the School of Design and other related disciplines to bring creativity to life.

In terms of trends, Jon observes that the industry has evolved over time. Initially, the focus was on bringing design to the table, with disciplines like graphic design, industrial design, and product design leading the way. With the increasing digital transformation, new capabilities have emerged, enabling a greater diversity of communication channels. The barriers to market entry for small and medium-sized brands have decreased, allowing for a broader range of communication options. This expansion has led to the emergence of disciplines like digital media, offering a multitude of tools and technologies for communication. While the increasing complexity of options can be challenging, it also provides more opportunities for targeting specific audiences and delivering messages effectively.

Q: What are some of the key aspects of the design management practice?

A: Jon discusses key aspects of the design management practice. He emphasizes the importance of having a combination of skills, including an understanding of the management process within the organization and the ability to bring relevant practitioner skills, such as digital design or industrial design.

From a leadership perspective, Jon highlights the need to consider both, the present and future work of the organization. This involves thinking about how current projects will impact the market in the next three to five years and planning ahead accordingly.

When it comes to scaling up an organization, Jon identifies four critical values for leaders. The first value is talent acquisition, ensuring that the right individuals are in place to meet and exceed business needs. The second value is process, which, when approached positively, can be efficient, effective, and support decision-making. Developing successful and repeatable processes allows for greater influence in how an organization operates.

Jon also emphasizes the importance of the environment, which encompasses both physical and psychological aspects. The physical environment involves creating spaces that inspire collaboration and functional delivery. The psychological environment relates to how leadership, including the c-suite and management, supports the activities of the design team. Jon shares his personal experience of flourishing in a supportive environment at P&G, where he felt valued and had the necessary backing to excel in his work.

In summary, Jon underscores that a positive environment and supportive leadership are crucial for the success of design management. When such an environment is in place, it attracts talent, facilitates effective processes, and enables more impactful changes within the organization or business.

Q: Can you provide a case study of a successful design management implementation in an organization?

A: Jon shares two case studies—one from his personal experience and another he has observed. In his personal history, Jon recounts his time at P&G (Procter & Gamble) in the mid-90s. At that time, P&G did not have a design function in the organization. However, a hiring manager took a gamble by bringing Jon on board and placing him in the R&D department with the plan to transition him to design later on. Initially, John and one other colleague were responsible for handling design for the entire region of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. However, over the course of a decade, the design capabilities at P&G underwent a dramatic expansion. The design function became a significant department with a centralized organization that created strategy and governance for design. Design teams were established in every business unit. Jon, particularly involved in the beauty care business, witnessed the transition from a small and fragmented department to one of greater significance. The growing influence of design within P&G became evident when design started being considered a significant expense that made a difference to the organization. Not only did the design team gain external recognition by winning competitions and achieving business success, but they also received internal recognition. This recognition allowed them a seat at the management table, demonstrating the value and impact that design and creativity can have within a large organization.

Another case study that Jon observes is the progress of Logitech, a company with a forward-thinking CEO who values design and inclusively involves design in shaping the company’s future. Logitech has a strong design leader, and what Jon finds compelling is their use of design to reshape the company and influence its strategic direction. This demonstrates the significant impact of design and creativity on business outcomes.

These case studies highlight how design management can transform organizations, from initially being in obscurity to becoming pivotal and influential in driving success and business turnarounds. By gaining recognition, both externally and internally, design teams can have a substantial impact on the everyday lives of consumers. Furthermore, when design starts influencing strategic decisions, it signifies a significant milestone on the maturity continuum of design and design management. These examples reflect the increasing importance of design in shaping future experiences and driving business success.

Q: In the context of larger organizations, what is the difference between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, and what challenges can one foresee in the future?

A: Entrepreneurship involves creating a new product or service, either through a startup or within a large organization. Intrapreneurship, on the other hand, focuses more on design management and the skill of strategically impacting a company, regardless of its size. It involves leveraging creativity to make a difference and encompasses two key elements: process and talent. The process aspect involves incorporating strategic intent into the organization, while the talent aspect involves bringing in the right leaders who can influence cross-functional partners to think differently about their roles.

Jon illustrates this with his example from P&G, where he worked closely with cross-functional leaders and had the support of the company’s president. In order to make a statement with design, they had to rethink their approach across various functions, including supply chain, R&D, procurement, sales, and marketing. By aligning everyone strategically and fostering receptivity to creativity, they were able to bring in more creative capability, leading to positive outcomes for their brand.

Looking ahead, Jon identifies several challenges that will impact design management at a macro level. These challenges include trends such as DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), sustainability, and globalization. Design managers will need to become more disciplined and agnostic in their approach, as creativity encompasses a broad landscape of disciplines. They must be open to understanding the contributions of different disciplines, which can be a competitive advantage. Additionally, they need to be agile and flexible to navigate the broader scale of impact and cope with the challenges of the future.

These challenges, both on a macro and micro level, will require design managers and leaders to adapt and find ways to effectively manage and leverage creativity in the face of evolving trends and demands.

Podcast Host: Amit Ahuja, Associate Director, Communications & Digital, Zista Education
Podcast Guest: Jon Denham, Chair for Design Management and Service Design, Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), USA
Video & Audio Editing: Raj Soni, Communications Associate, Zista Education
Podcast Manager: Russel Aldridge, Sr. Manager, Creative & Digital, Zista Education
Podcast Transcript: Tanya Kakka, Freelance Copywriter