Why are we still arguing for the business value of design?


#TIA – I give Tom Watson all the credit he deserves for leading business to good design but even more for his company’s principal motto: Think.

“Good design is good business”: This line from then-IBM president Thomas J. Watson Jr.’s 1973 speech at the University of Pennsylvania has become a battlecry for the place of design in business operations.

Watson Jr., who fell in love with modern design in an Olivetti typewriter showroom, is remembered as the most ardent corporate champion for visual arts of his time. During his tenure, IBM leaned on a roster of architects and designers—Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Paul Rand, Isamu Noguchi—and established itself as a design-forward company. With the help of MoMA curator Eliot Noyes, IBM transformed its image from a company that sold meat grinders and punch cards to “the paradigm of the modern corporation,” as design historian Steve Heller puts it. Through corporate branding, stylish corporate offices, product packaging, and World Fair pavilions, IBM became a locus of innovation and good taste.

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