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Hiring a fractional Chief Design Officer—the ROI and how it works

The role of a fractional Chief Design Officer (CDO) is much bigger than to contribute to the design strategy or design operations. They take ownership to build the design advocacy, and a design-aware and design-centric organization for all its teams, functions, and system-wide operations.

A CDO establishes the systems and the standards to show how design influences an organization in its goals—this role has multiple dimensions, a mix of executive, people and systems, creative, and operations (source: Peter Merholz). 

Conventionally, the role of fractional design executives was more towards the strategy and operations for user-centered design, research, prototyping, creative and branding, and the design ROI. The modern digital experiences that call for holistic user experience and customer experience investments have brought a shift in how chief design officers bring a much deeper and wider influence into how the organization works as a system.

How Fractional Chief Design Officers Work

  • Position the role of design at the top leadership across the organization, for all teams and functions—build advocacy, and show how design makes a positive impact
  • Establish the design systems and the standards, and show quick wins as the PoC, let others see how it is important
  • Build it on evidence—customer discovery and synthesis, and invest in design the teams around different sub-disciplines including information architecture, content design, product content strategy, interaction design, user interface, branding, message and positioning
  • Build a Community of Practice (CoP), and focus on the employee experience to scale the design-centricity in the organization
  • They design the team who can work on the action items in the roadmap—who stays focused, and know how to define the measurable goals. 
  • They work like architects with a meta view of how the teams develop and position a product—and they make sure that the message and the experience are in complete synch with each other, for the customers’ expectations, and their success criteria. 
  • They work in partnerships—with product managers, growth leaders, revenue department, and with marketing and sales, and content leadership. 

How we work as fractional chief design officers—we start with a few conversations.

  • Talk about your key concerns—is it getting new customers, or retention, or growth and expansion, or staying competitive with a differentiator, or whatever it is
  • About the foundations—what is your understanding about the role of design, the foundations, and how you see its influence in your key concerns
  • The people—what systems you have or you plan to have that gives enough confidence to your teams to prepare to address those concerns and how they see the role of design
  • System thinking—how the organization responds to the new opportunities to embrace the role of design in its growth, at the system level

We start with a culture of learnability—our learning models and our incentives to learn—the curiosity and finding the right reasons to learn and apply at least some of those learnings.

We inculcate the learning culture in the organization—something that Peter Senge has explained remarkable well in their book The Fifth Discipline (get it on Amazon).

Learning organizations, by Peter Senge, and vhite mentions this book while talking about hiring fractional chief design officers.

After early conversations, we build or get into your communication systems for:

  • Customers—data, profiles and segments, their success criteria, and where it intersects with the organization goals
  • Design systems—a unified and a default reference that serves as a dashboard for the organization’s key concerns and the progression (see our related post on Medium)
  • Employee experience—how individuals respond to this design opportunity to elevate their work practices, their concerns if any, and developing them as our design ambassadors

We bring lot of strategy and structure in how organizations orchestrate their design operations to deliver meaningful experiences for their customers, and for the employees too. We work with you for

  • Brand vocabulary, and brand narrative so that the product positioning is closely in synch with the design
  • Research and discovery, and synthesis
  • Information architecture for the foundational system design
  • Content design and product content strategy
  • User stories, Jobs To Be Done, product stories, intent stories, scenario mapping, and service blueprints
  • Design and content systems
  • Building streams and flow based on evidence
  • Speaking about design in the language of product metrics
  • Capability matrix for team—their positive experience

The most important contribution of a Chief Design Officer is to bring clarity and awareness in every team and department in the organization about the role of design in their respective goals and KPI—it just elevates the customer experience and the user experience goals, holistically.

Our thoughts

  • Designing an intelligent bot—a case study, in an interview with Head of AI Content in Capital One (in 2018): link
  • A systems-driven content supply chain is the life blood of customer experience: link
  • Not Investing in product positioning is a disrespect to the product Itself: link
  • SaaS pricing page and the role of product content strategy: link
  • Aligning content principles with the product principles to have more relevant content systems: link
  • Our decisions framework: link
  • We need design and content systems that support product metrics: link


  • Growth design for startups, by First Round Review: link
  • The power of great product marketing:  Martina Lauchengco, Partner, Costanoa Ventures & SVPG (video): link
  • How capable leaders navigate uncertainty and ambiguity, John Cutler: link
  • Distribution and marketing—word of mouth, Reforge: link
  • Product Principles, Intercom: link
  • Recipe for system change, Helsinki Design Lab: link
  • Support content compliance using Generative AI, Michael Andrews: link
  • The product strategy stack, Reforge: link
  • Andrew Chen on marketplaces strategy, Stripe: link

If you are thinking something as

“We spoke to many customers but we are experiencing a high churn rate or inactive accounts rate; not sure how we could do it for the retention.”

“Our customers are loving the product and they see the value but our positioning is not very clear—we need to redo it and bring more customer-centric storytelling.”

“Our SaaS product page is getting a good traffic and they are seeing our pricing page but the conversions are too low—I wonder how we can build the urgency and confidence to help them sign up.”

Without overthinking, you can contact us to identify your needs, and if there is a merit in hiring us for fractional leadership roles. Just fill in this small form (Typeform). We shall write back within 72 hours.