Guest Commentator: Christine Sheller , Vice President, Design, FS Investments @fsinvestments

Why is it important to support the leadership development of in-house designers?

As companies have become more attuned to the value of better understanding their customers, the role of design has evolved from simply an output to a key influencer of business strategy. Consider:

  • an index of design-centric companies has continued to outperform the S&P 500 Index,*
  • design thinking has been regularly featured in the Harvard Business Review and as core curriculum at top business schools,
  • and corporations are increasingly investing in building first-class in-house design teams.

The role of the in-house designer has expanded over the years to now include serving as brand ambassadors, culture carriers, and innovation drivers. For many well-known companies, design has earned a seat at the table: J&J, 3M, PepsiCo, and Apple have created Chief Design Officer positions to ensure design is embodied in every aspect of their corporate lives.

Though today’s in-house creative teams can display a brilliant spectrum of talents—cultivated from foundational disciplines like typography to user experience to a growing host of software platforms—there are many instances where these can be strengthened by incorporating a set of skills that takes the designer from valued individual contributor to a strong leader in the company.

No path to leadership is easy, and that is especially true for designers. Yet these skills are no less vital to individual and corporate growth. Leadership for in-house designers requires not only deepening their knowledge of the internal business lines and key customers and audiences, but also understanding how to cultivate firm-wide relationships, establish an executive presence, and frame the value of their design in the context of business goals. Such executive skills are seldom learned in design programs. They require the confidence and commitment of senior business leaders to invest in their design team’s potential.

Put design to work for your company. Advocate for the leadership development of your in-house team and you will undoubtedly see the return on your investment.


Christine Sheller is an alumnus of Designing Leadership, a leadership development program of the Chamber’s Arts + Business Council committed to developing leaders in the creative economy, including for-profit creative and nonprofit arts and culture communities.

Now in its sixth year, the five-session program, taught by expert faculty from IBM and the Wharton School, focuses on individual and organizational leadership competencies. Participants benefit from world-class faculty and the shared experience of collaborating with their creative peers on real-time challenges. Learn more and apply >