Quick Studies

How 3M Integrated Its Design Team into the Entire Organization

While legacy organizations are often resistant to change, a clear process—and a lot of patience—can convince key stakeholders of the importance of innovation.

Some of the most creative designers work with constraints like red tape and bureaucracy. Take Eric Quint, Chief Design Officer at 3M, whose mission is to make design part of the company’s DNA. Quint has detailed the subtle art of being a designer inside of a legacy organization and how to teach colleagues about the importance of design.

How to Set Up Design Teams Inside Legacy Organizations

  1. Set your target. Quint’s team is tasked with spreading a shared design process throughout the organization, rather than designing products themselves. Establishing clear goals will prevent you from stepping on other colleagues’ toes and help them understand the role your team should play.
  2. Create a shared vocabulary. Work with HR to define all the titles on the design team and how they function with the organization, and map out all of the roles within design so team members can get a sense of career progression. This is crucial to help a legacy organization understand where design fits between marketing and engineering.
  3. Educate other teams about design. Share information internally and externally to develop an understanding and appreciation for design. Quint worked up and down the chain of command to show, rather than tell, 3M employees what the impact of great design looks like. Specifically, he reiterated the same message across the organization: the role of design is to stretch people.
  4. Start with a high impact project. Quint selected a starter project that touched every team at 3M: recreating the brand identity. This highly visible project showed the entire company what was possible, but it did take lots of convincing of upper management before getting approval!
  5. Design a welcoming workspace. Quint describes the team’s room as a “market square for a design village” with a “living room feel.” Beyond cool furniture, Quint wanted to create a space that it made it easy for product owners to collaborate with other teams.
  6. Remain patient. Take a fundamental design principle and apply it to teams: the team must empathize with their internal customers, sharing in wins and losses. For instance, it took a year to work through the rebranding, but it paid off when 3M’s value went up by $1 billion.


Published July 15, 2016

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