Digital.

Data.

Design.

There’s no doubt that “D” is newest member of the C-Suite. But how do we connect all those D’s? What happens now to the “I’s” and what the heck is “T” going to do?

Even though it’s been around since the early 80’s, one of the hottest executive suite titles in the internet age has been the Chief Information Officer (CIO). A CIO is necessary to manage the information technology of an organization, to make the best decisions to improve productivity, and incite innovation. They help a business succeed and thrive – and have firmly taken a position among the leadership. It’s an interesting evolution — the “tech guys” years ago would never have access to the CEO. Now the CIO is one of the most important voices in the boardroom.

That evolution is happening again. That jump — recognizing the importance of an often behind-the-scenes talent to join top decision-makers at the table — has cleared the way for other voices to be heard. Over the past few years, the hottest new voice in the C-Suite is Design and this is just the beginning for the era of the “Chief Design Officer.”

Previously, design lived among the more junior-level or less visible professionals as part of the marketing team under the watch of the Chief Marketing Officer. Other organizations lumped design as a substrate of engineering or technology under the watch of a CIO or CTO. Or money was spent on outside design consultants.

In all cases, design was thought of as something you do to make a product more marketable or engineering more elegant or easily understood. But this all took place after key decisions were made about who, what, where, when, why, and how. Design was simply an afterthought — unless you were Apple, of course. Now design is being offered a prominent seat at the table—and in some cases at the head of the table.

In 2014, Johnson and Johnson, a company that has always valued design, expanded the role of its Chief Design Officer to a global position. Previously, J&J had Chris Hacker leading consumer products but now they’ve tapped a Ernesto Quinteros, former chief of brand and design at Belkin International, to lead design globally. Coming from a tech-based firm like Belkin, J&J’s move also pulls in digital, data, and mobile into its CDO.

The Chief Design Officer position signifies a shift in perception: that Design is not only valuable but essential at the very top of strategy. That like the CIO, a CDO can help a business thrive. “Design Thinking” can help create the kinds of relationships organizations want to have with their customers.

An executive in the Chief Design Officer role can infuse new thinking into stagnant system. The CDO has a unique combination of skills that help businesses understand and engage consumers in a more holistic way. Good designers, by nature, are empathetic. By placing themselves into the role of the customer they can identify gaps in the customer experience journey. They better understand the needs and wants of consumers. This allows them to be able to better identify and create new products and services — and mitigate risk. “Design Thinking” through its iterative, rapid prototyping methodology reduces risk at almost every turn by truly capturing what people really want and need.

Even in Silicon Valley, there has been a seismic shift from engineering to design as its differentiator. To see design’s rise in action, look no further than the path of John Maeda’s career from the MIT Media Lab to heading up RISD and now to Design Partner at Kleiner Perkins.

Design is now being viewed as a competitive strength, which drives productivity and differentiates services in a global market. It makes sense to have a designer in the C-Suite. A designer does not only imagine a solution, but they also reimagine the problem. We need that kind of thinking at the top.