Designer as CEO?

Designer as CEO

I am honored to be part of next weeks Designers Debate Club. It is taking place on October 1st at the Fashion Institute of Technology here in NYC.

Craig Shapiro and I will be debating *for* designers leading companies while Gadi Amit and Rick Webb are debating against.

The four of us will be in the wonderful hands of ringmaster Debbie Millman. Come and join us! Get your ticket here.

What’s your thought on the topic? Should designers take on the role as CEO?

16 Comments leave a comment below

  1. Sure, if they have the skills to be a CEO. Every leader brings their own unique outlook, worldview, hard and soft skills, etc. to inform their leadership style and success. Sometimes designers do that well. Sometimes they don’t. Just like sometimes MBAs do it well, and sometimes they don’t.

    It’s about individual leaders, not individual skillsets.

  2. DEPENDS! Some designers are actually well-equipt to be CEOs, but most aren’t. This is not a simple “Yes” or “No” in my mind. Everyone and every company is different, making every situation unique. I’m interested to hear others feedback, though.

  3. I did. Worked out dandy.

    I don’t see how someone can really take the opposite side of this argument. You either have the skills and temperament to be a CEO or you don’t… doesn’t matter if you happen to be a designer by trade or an engineer or a PM or anything else. A CEO is a leader who can balance priorities, motivate employees, and set proper strategic direction. People in every field are capable of this.

  4. Was Steve Jobs a good CEO? Enough said!

  5. Designers definitely aren’t linear thinkers. I think a leader or CEO would benefit from being able to ‘think differently’ (Jobs as an example!) but rather, arguing against; I think designers aren’t as “cold and calculating” as a CEO needs to be for the murky shark-infested waters that is Big Business. That or all my designer-friends are just big softies.

    Personally, being a designer I think give all CEO positions to Engineers. They’ve got a fantastic mix of the business-mind and creative-mind.

  6. Magazine publisher EMAP (now Bauer Media), my last employer before I went freelance, had a policy: when designers become editors they must leave behind their original responsibilities as a designer, the idea being that they have different responsibilities and someone to fulfil their former duties, another designer.

    I see no reason why a designer shouldn’t become a CEO and take on new responsibilities if they have the right mindset. Many designers I’ve had the pleasure to work with have better credentials to perform this role than, typically preferred, editorial staff. I was on the editorial staff, for what it’s worth.

    You have to examine a person’s ability, not their origins.

  7. We all know nothing is ever black and white. So my answer is, yes, a designer could lead a company successfully.

    Thank you, Tina, for opening my eyes to the DDC. Love their site. Would love a re-cap of past debates even more. Or a way to watch/listen online? Just one more reason to move my family to NYC.

    Good day,

    Denise in DC

  8. Is it just me or is that question just as relevant/irrelevant as asking whether developers should be CEOs? Designers, just like developers, are known for certain qualities. Depending on the company’s product/service and the qualities of the individual, I think designers can make great CEOs. As a designer and CEO, perhaps I’m a bit biased. :) Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about it, Tina.

  9. As a designer and brand-spankin’ new CEO, I’m going to say yes. Although I think that going from doing client-work mentality to CEO mentality can be a hard transition. I have a newfound respect for the skills and dedication required to make things happen.

  10. I’m a designer, just started my own small business.

    I havent met many designers who would be comfortable placing themselves at the head of an organisation. (The only exception is if it were a design studio with their name above the door).

    I think designers dont get to learn much about business or marketing unless they seek it out themselves so fear the unknown. Designers are often highly self critical publicly, I’ve never met a CEO who has ever been that way. I’ve also not met many CEOs who were good leaders.

    this debate will be interesting, please share on here afterwards

  11. I’m a designer by trade and CEO, and I’ve learned how to manage, lead, adapt, and motivate while still keeping a passion for design and being a creative director.

    I believe anyone, trade agnostic, can be a CEO IF they have the attitude to learn and mindset that they will be challenged. You have to let the technician side of die a little to be a better manager and leader seeing a bigger view than just the work in front of you .

    Read “The E-Myth Revisited” that supports this ideas as well.

  12. I think it’s kind of funny how designers are always in the conversation of, should they also do something else. Should designers learn how to code? Should designers becomes CEO’s?

    I think this totally depends on the person, not all designers are cut out to handle the business side of things. And not all designers who become CEO’s are necessarily good or successful ones. I’ve seen situations where creatives end up starting a small studio or agency only to have it shut down in a couple years and end up working for someone else again.

  13. Our response is a resounding “yes.” In fact, designers – and those who think like them – are taking the top leadership positions in increasing numbers. We profile seven of them in our new book “Rise of the DEO: Leadership by Design.”

    Would love everyone to join in the conversation on this at or

    We’ve got great data and examples to support the YES side of this debate.

  14. A great tweet I saw today from @lukew

    “When your CEO is a designer, design bugs are P1 bugs.”

    So true. :)

  15. I hope this question takes a slight turn to become “Should designers have a seat at the executive table?” or better yet “How can designers have a respected seat at the executive table?”

    I agree with the people above who’ve said that being a CEO depends on the person, not their chosen field. Not all designers can be good leaders, but some can be brilliant at it.
    If the question is “Can the average designer take on the role of CEO?” I’d say, not without additional training, knowledge and drive. If the question is “Does a design background / design thinking make for a better CEO?” Then the answer is an astounding “yes!”

    I’d be interested to hear a discussion on the design function of a company and how designers can be more respected within a company. How can the collective design field/department have a seat at the executive table? Product design has spearheaded the way, with Jony Ive as the poster child, but what about other types of design?

  16. Mike D. pretty much hit the nail on the head. The answer is Yes a designer can be a CEO.