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What drew you to design? I wanted to create things that have a profound, positive impact on people, companies and the society at large. If you’re serious about design, you can nudge people’s behavior; help organizations thrive; make people smile; and simplify, clarify and truly change things. It is a big task, and you cannot change the world in a day, but sharing this ambition with others is the North Star that attracted me to the design industry, and it’s what keeps me here.

You’re the chief executive officer of Stockholm-based design firm Doberman. How do your business decisions fuel Doberman’s design work? We run our studio based on a simple triangulated model of doing great work, having solid revenue and enjoying life. These three corners of the triangle are dependent on each other, and in order to establish something sustainable, they must be in perfect balance. My role as a leader is to nurture and guard this balance as if it is the holy grail. Actually, it is the holy grail.

What processes do you have in place to maintain an innovative culture at Doberman? Doberman’s culture is built on the principle of co-creation. As an independent agency where almost 50 percent of our colleagues are owners, we have the luxury of making important decisions together. When we are committed to doing this, it builds trust and inclusion, and it opens us up to new ideas and unexpected solutions. For example, twice a year, we close our studios for something we call Exploration Days, which is a time to focus on just us: Where do we want to go? What do we want to achieve? How do we need to evolve? The decision to open a studio in New York did not come from only me or the management team. It came from all of us during an Exploration Day.

Helping clients push the frontier of what is possible by being brave is why we all became designers in the first place.”
 
Doberman will soon premiere a film that features interviews with 20 influential designers musing on “The Frontiers of Design.” What issues do you think design firms need to work through in order to move smoothly into the future marketplace? There’s a range of common threads and major themes that emerged in the film. One pitfall is designers creating mainstream, templated work. The core of design is to help companies create products, services and communication that truly cut through the noise, but way too often, we miss that opportunity and our work becomes part of the general noise instead.

Another issue is diversity. Every design team needs to work on making design more diverse and enabling far more voices to be part of the conversation.

Another major issue in the film is ethics in general. As designers, we need to start realizing that design means power—and with power comes responsibility. The things we create will have an impact on our world, and we can be both part of the problem and part of the solution.

The film also gets into the discussion about what’s next after design thinking, and how design has been deconstructed into processes and methods and, through that, lost a bit of its soul.

What are the most important advances you see in technology today? We’re now at a point where technology is inspiring the experiences we bring into the world versus simply enabling them. Technology has become a palette we can leverage in creative and innovative ways. For example, our partnership with Neo4j, a graph database platform, helps uncover patterns in consumer usage that illuminate opportunities to design more meaningful user experiences. We’ve successfully leveraged this relationship with Neo4j across a range of industries, including health care, financial services and hospitality.

Designers now have a seat at the table with key business decision makers. What additional skills or perspectives do designers need before sitting at that table? We need to be brave. In many cases, we are pushing our clients to make choices that require significant changes to how they do business. So, while building empathy with our clients is important to that process, helping them push the frontier of what is possible by being brave is why we all became designers in the first place.

What’s one risky decision you’re glad you made in your career? As a leader, I’m proud that I’ve been a part of decisions that have challenged the core of who we are and what we do as a design firm, like opening a studio on another continent, acquiring an industrial design firm, and founding an investment arm, Doberman Forward, to provide capital for startups we believe in. I’m really happy about this because we’ve dared to do all of these things by listening to an “informed gut feeling,” which is the designer’s way. I hope to make many more decisions this way.

What have you learned from the designers who work at Doberman? Everything is possible. Period.

Lisa Lindström is the chief executive officer and a founding partner at the design firm Doberman. Her design journey started at the digital school Hyper Island. She splits her time across the Doberman design studios in New York and Stockholm; she has managed Doberman teams working for clients including Google, IKEA, Minecraft, the Museum of Modern Art and Spotify. Lindström is the previous chair of the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation and is one of the industrial advisors to the Swedish government. A popular public speaker, she also advises companies on innovation, leadership and radical change in the digital economy.

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