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What will it take to create a better future by design? A new industry community aims to find out.

It’s been said that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” As global forces like the rise of emerging economies and rapid digitization change how we live and work, creating a future where everyone can thrive requires radical new ways of looking at the world.

“This kind of thinking is centered around humans. It works to deeply understand our needs and motivations, and then creates solutions that improve lives,” says Hugo Sarrazin, a McKinsey senior partner and global leader of our Design Practice. “That is what design is all about.”

More than 100 chief design officers and senior design leaders from a range of industries around the world gathered last month in Stockholm’s Nobel Prize hall for McKinsey’s inaugural Global Design Leader Summit. The meeting was the first gathering of a new community of top design talent, who shared how their craft might help tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing their organizations, their communities, and in turn society at large.

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More than 100 design leaders came together from across the world, representing organizations like Shiseido, Spotify, The Gates Foundation, Procter & Gamble, and others.

Here they celebrated the history and impact of design, tied to the 50th anniversary of Veryday, now part of McKinsey Design, and discussed where they see the future of design and its leadership.

“It’s no longer about making things pretty,” said Logitech president and CEO, Bracken Darrell. “That was the first wave of design. Then came the second where design focused on experiences and human needs. Building on these is the third wave, where we’re designing for everything—every single problem you look at.”

According to Tera Allas, McKinsey’s director of research and economics, design plays a critical and perhaps surprising role in shaping today’s global forces, like poverty and climate change. “When it comes to the adoption of tech for good, it has to come from a user perspective,” she says. “That kind of human centricity is something so ingrained in designers.”

Some examples include buildings’ uses of IoT-enabled predictive systems that have lowered electricity consumption and costs by 30 percent, or remote health monitoring through wearables that has led to a 40 percent reduction in hospital readmission rates.

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Ben Sheppard, a McKinsey partner and leader of the UK Product Development and Design Practices, speaking at the inaugural Global Design Leader Summit in Stockholm, Sweden.

Attendees agreed that while design is well-suited to address social and environmental issues, few understand the scope of what might be considered design. “Objects, artifacts, services, of course,” says Jennifer Kilian, a McKinsey partner and leader in our Digital and Design Practices, “but it’s also redesigning how companies, governments, and public sector organizations work.”

Take, for example, the power and importance of trust for institutions, such as government. People are nine times more likely to trust an agency if they’ve had positive experiences with their services. How easy are they to access, how smooth is the process? These are design questions.

Such questions arose as attendees broke out into groups to develop prototypes for each of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Some of the ideas that emerged during this session included creating a generosity index for organizations and helping companies see the benefit of disrupting their own businesses.

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Attendees created prototypes to illustrate possible solutions aimed at each of the UNs sustainable development goals.

“Business values and societal and environmental values are inseparable,” said Andrew Morlet, CEO of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. And when it comes to measuring the value of design, our research shows the positive effects it has on financial, societal, and environmental performance.

But in order for such value to be realized, design needs to be fully embedded throughout every part of an organization. While our research shows that design is more than a department, many attendees shared the struggles they face in feeling siloed within their own companies.

Many in the room agreed that it can be lonely being the chief design officer inside a company. Unlike designers in an agency, in-house design leaders may find themselves without peers and constantly trying to motivate and protect their teams. Without a C-suite that has bought into the value of design, the day-to-day can be challenging.

Designers are bridge builders, and so too was this summit: a place to build bridges.

Hugo Sarrazin McKinsey senior partner

Hugo emphasized the importance of building partnerships both within and between organizations and institutions. Open communication and shared experiences can help dismantle preconceptions and foster a common language and understanding of design’s value among all executives.

“Designers are bridge builders,” adds Hugo “and so too was this summit: a place to build bridges.” Through this community, new bonds could firm that cross industries, where lessons from great successes and failures and insights into radical transformations can be translated and built on. “Hopefully we will see more of these types of connections to really create a better future for all.”

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