During my Fellowship experience over the Summer, I started to become interested in the inner workings of companies and how design companies as entities evolve, adapt or die. This is particularly typified in the leadership of a company—where a design direction comes from a few significant people or a figure-head. The thought that kept coming to me was, what happen when that leadership leaves.
There are many companies where the legacy left by individuals seems to rule the company still—especially with legacy companies like Herman Miller where George Nelson changed the DNA of the company. The work created through his contacts and work with designers are what they still rely on for the vision of their brand as the leader of the mid-century modern style, even though most of their money comes through office furniture. I couldn't tell you exactly why the subject of a company moving from one center of power to another (or completely different style of governing) interests me, but it just seems like a moment in which so much can go wrong. I think it is also because there aren't really many other industries in the world which still work in this way—fashion for instance rotate heavily on design directors to avoid the type of fall which could come from a center of gravity for the company leaving. Take for example the most obvious recent example of Steve Jobs at Apple—I assume we will back on this moment in 70 years with less emphasis, but right now his death seemed to leave Apple stalling in the world of innovation in which they led the field for so long...
This ties pretty well into another example, where companies seem to work in one of two ways—family owned and publicly owned. I'm not sure what draws me to being interested in these two situations, but the differences seem pretty strong, and maybe its because I might end up working in one of these two environments so understanding them is helpful?As a heads up, I'm not focusing on any specific company here, in fact I'm going to make very broad statements which probably don't line up to any company at all. It is also worth noting that everyone who I have met whom work for these companies love them, regardless of what type of company they are, and their engagement with the products and designers is amazing. All of these people are proud of their companies, and proud of the design they produce.
It seems, working in a family-owned business you really have to be invested in the families ideals. I guess this is true of any leadership anywhere really, but with family leadership it feels like those are based on more emotional and individual traits. From what I have seen, there is also only so much room to grow into new roles or to move into leadership positions as they seem to have less ability to grow or adapt quickly, maybe due to capital. In a publicly owned company, it seems the design is led more by a business case, rather than being led specifically by expression and experimentation.
I guess all-in-all this is just something you get to understand once you see the other side of the industry and it is well more than likely that all of these thoughts and observations are seen through a pinhole of a tiny experience within companies in general, but it is something which we never talk about at school which probably has a huge effect on our careers.