Kering

François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering
Alexander Wang, creative director of Balenciaga

In 2005, Wang dropped out of Parsons the New School for Design and started a line of slouchy, sexy sweaters. His street style became immensely popular but didn’t have much in common with old-school haute couture. That didn’t stop Pinault, who runs the multibillion-dollar French multinational holding company Kering, from tapping 28-year-old Wang to head up 95-year-old Paris fashion house Balenciaga. It was a gutsy, unexpected move that rocked the fashion world. So far, Wang has more than made good on the promise to “reinterpret and immortalize the distinctive, modern and extremely innovative style imposed by Cristóbal Balenciaga."

Herman Miller

Brian Walker, CEO
Don Goeman, head of research, design, and development

“I always want Don to be in the future, asking how are we solving a problem through innovation and design that the business unit may not even have seen yet,” says CEO Walker. Goeman’s dispatches from the future brought us the “Living Office,” offering a series of flexible workplace solutions as a modern-day update to the first office cubicle, which Herman Miller developed in the 1960s. Walker and Goeman’s partnership is built around scheduled spontaneity: “We try to leave lots of white space for those moments of intuition and surprise that we didn’t plan for,” says Walker.

Beats by Dre

James “Jimmy” Iovine, cofounder and CEO, Beats Electronics
Robert Brunner, Beats designer, founder and partner of Ammunition

The problem: cheapo ear buds and tiny PC speakers ruining the emotion of music as intended by artists. “We lost a whole generation to bad audio," said music producer and Beats Electronics CEO Iovine. The solution: Iovine brought in Brunner, rockstar mind behind the Kindle, and married great audio with great design. The duo paid as much attention to physical details as to sound quality and came up with the anti-earbud. Beats by Dre immediately became an iconic brand, making young people realize, as Iovine puts it, “it’s not cool to not have good sound."

Tesla

Elon Musk, CEO, cofounder, and product architect
Franz von Holzhausen, chief designer

Their mission: To create stunningly designed electric cars for the mass market. "There are really two things that have to occur in order for a new technology to be affordable to the mass market," CEO Musk told Fast Company. "One is you need economies of scale. The other is you need to iterate on the design. You need to go through a few versions." Musk’s intimate involvement in the design process is refreshing to Holzhausen, who tells Co.Design that at workplaces past, design “felt very unimportant, where the product is secondary to the business.” The shift to Tesla has been “incredibly powerful, because now design has a really strong voice.”

Jawbone

Hosain Rahman, CEO, Jawbone
Yves Béhar, CEO, Fuseproject; creative director, Jawbone

When developing everything from headsets to personal data sensors, this duo sweats tiny details that less design-minded brands might gloss over. “We care about the debossing and embossing, the matte, the shiny, all of the different iterations of black,” says Rahman. The two describe a deep, familial trust that’s integral to their partnership and a shared vision that led to entire maps and diagrams about what design would look like for Jawbone in the company’s early days.

Starbucks

Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO
Arthur Rubinfeld, president of global development and chief creative officer

These kings of coffee share a brotherly bond--“I. Love. Him.” says Schultz of Rubinfeld, praising his “curiosity quotient,” the ability to see the big picture first. The duo met in their early 20s and share design smarts that have taken the brand global (they’re the reason “tall” now means “small”). Another example of their sixth-sense strategies--Rubinfeld insists that all Starbucks tables be round because square tables make solo patrons feel lonelier.

Twitter

Dick Costolo, CEO
Doug Bowman, creative director

It makes sense that Twitter--the holy grail of snappy one-liners--is helmed by a former stand-up comic. Costolo, an alum of Chicago’s Second City, recruited visionary designer Bowman to transform what could be a chaotic, overwhelming forum into a user-friendly digital interface. “Doug's sense of Twitter’s look and feel is intuitive and clever,” Costolo tells Co.Design. “I count on Doug to keep the user's perspective front and center.”

McDonald’s

Don Thompson, CEO
Melody Roberts, senior director, experience design innovation

The duo behind the McRenaissance of the last five years, Thompson and Roberts put design at the forefront of the brand’s $2.4 billion makeover. “People eat with their eyes first,” says Thompson. “If you have a restaurant that is appealing, contemporary, and relevant from both the street and the interior, the food tastes better.” Roberts, alum of prestigious design firm Ideo, heads up McDonald’s secretive Innovation Center, which shed the old-school identikit attached to the golden arches--they now lead to sleek new interiors and a revamped menu.

Marriott

Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International
Ian Schrager, founder and chairman of Ian Schrager Company

This marriage of opposites--an indie-meets-corporate partnership--recently resurrected Marriott from a financial slump with an $800 million investment that includes beautiful new hotels in Miami and New York’s MetLife Clock Tower. Imitation is the best compliment, and designer Schrager recognizes scores of Marriott knock-offs--boutique hotel wannabes that tend to way overdesign. “Now it’s become perverse, a parody of itself. So we’re trying to get away from that and to simplify and to get back to the purity of it. It’s a kind of rebellion against what I call design on steroids.”

Nike

Mark Parker, CEO
John Hoke, VP, global design

CEO Parker, who started out as a shoe designer himself, calls Nike “design obsessed.” Hoke, his partner in integrating design and a self-described “compulsive doodler,” submitted drawings of his ideas for sneaker improvements to Nike after cutting up his shoes when he was just 12 years old. Sure enough, he received a letter back: “When you get old enough, you should come work for us.” Decades later, Hoke took them up on the offer, and now he’s “a designer 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. It's not something I can turn off.”

Samsung

Boo-Keun Yoon, President and CEO, Consumer Electronics Division
Dong-Hoon Chang, executive vice president, head of Design Strategy Team.

A television design based on the contours of a wineglass? A touch screen that mimics an infinity pool? No inspiration is off-limits for this highly creative partnership at the top of globe-dominating Samsung. (Their “Bordeaux Television” became No. 1 in the world.) They’ve set up design centers in cities all over the planet, where designers study local culture and industry trends to tailor products to regional markets. “We don’t subscribe to a one-size-fits-all philosophy,” says Chang.

Flipboard

Mike McCue, CEO
Marcos Weskamp, head of design

This duo managed to take the anarchy of the Internet--messy shared content from countless networking sites--and transform it into beautiful tablet magazines to flip through. Mental clutter, begone. Weskamp and McCue describe their design process in almost mystical terms: as a journey around a spiral from point A to point B, which spins out into yet another spiral, bringing you ever closer to a presentable product. But, says McCue, “I have never seen a product that has been finished. Especially in software.”

The Best CEO-Designer Duos, Part I Of II

This year, Co.Design singled out 25 dynamic partnerships shaping today's most innovative companies, from Nike and Starbucks to Jawbone and Twitter. Here's half of them.

Every year, Co.Design identifies some of the best and brightest talents working in the design field. This year, we took a slightly different approach, highlighting not just individuals but the unique CEO-designer partnerships that are shaping today's most innovative companies.

Fast Company's intimate interviews with the duos reveal the idiosyncrasies of their working relationships. From Starbucks heads' confessions of brotherly love to J. Crew's reliance on a healthy amount of creative tension, their words offer insights for those who understand that good design is simply good business.

Add New Comment

6 Comments

  • Carrie Sloane

    At first I was really interested in this article, but as I continued to scroll through the pictures I got bored of seeing so many white dudes.

  • Sager

    Wow, ONE woman and ONE black man : congrats on the tokenism. If it does nothing else, this illustrates the demographic wielding power. (Or does it?)

  • John

    What an uninspiring boys club you've put together here (with one dispiriting exception). So much missing...

  • Angie Foster

    Not that Jack Dorsey needs any more recognition, because he's a too-tight jean wearing billionaire and everything, but Twitter was 'invented' by Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams (some combination of those guys) not Costolo.

    Twitter photo caption:
    "It makes sense that Twitter--the holy grail of snappy one-liners--was invented by a former stand-up comic. Costolo..."