Since March of this year, the $100 million design firm Ideo—known for selling the corporate world on “design thinking” and wooing clients ranging from Apple to Coca-Cola—has been searching for a new CEO. Today, Ideo announced that the position has been filled by Derek Robson, who will begin in January.
Notably, Robson’s experience appears to be in marketing rather than design. He’s spent decades inside advertising firms, including in his last role as president of Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GS&P), which he’s held since 2017.
Robson’s appointment is in sharp contrast to that of Ideo’s last CEO, Sandy Speicher. A designer who had been with Ideo since 2004, Speicher was the firm’s first female CEO before stepping down in March, following Ideo’s heavily criticized response to the Black Lives Matter movement, along with a damning letter from a former Ideo employee on how the firm was treating its staff. Tim Brown—also a designer—served as CEO for Ideo for 19 years prior.
At a glance, Robson’s appointment marks a shift in Ideo’s strategy, from leading the company with a design POV to leading the company with a marketing POV. The move seems to signal the evolution of Ideo itself, which like many design firms has evolved from building products and experiences to satisfying any and every creative need for clients.
“We do see Derek as a designer, though not one who went to design school,” says Jennifer Riel, cochair of the selection committee. “Our definition of design has expanded a great deal over the years—we now have many designers who are business designers, organizational designers, strategy designers, and storytellers. Derek very much fits with that definition; plus, he’s been a highly successful leader of creative teams for a long time.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Wilson is the Global Design Editor at Fast Company. He has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years