Indra Nooyi, CEO
Mauro Porcini, chief design officer

When Indra Nooyi first arrived at PepsiCo, she noticed a troubling trend: When marketing products for women, the company would simply slap on a pink label or frill it up with flowers. “We knew we needed an in-house design studio to reengineer the DNA of this company,” she said. That’s when she recruited the revered Mauro Porcini from 3M as the company’s first-ever design chief. With design now at front and center of the many minds at PepsiCo, Nooyi has a new motto: “You will NOT do anything until you check with Mauro!”

J. Crew

Libby Wadle, president of J. Crew Brand
Jenna Lyons, president and executive creative director

In the past five years, Lyons’s constant creativity and Wadle’s sharp-minded merchandising transformed J. Crew from Nantucket bland to cult brand. “There should always be tension [between merchandising and design],” says Wadle. Innovation isn’t limited to their clothing lines, either-–great design pervades every aspect of the company’s output, from the website to the catalogue.


Angela Ahrendts, CEO
Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer

“I looked in his eyes, and I trusted him,” Ahrendts says recalling the first time she met the young, driven, and highly talented Bailey while the two were working late hours at Donna Karan. (Ahrendts was recently recruited to head up Apple's retail efforts.) Anchored in 157 years of rich Burberry heritage, these partners balance tradition with digital smarts and cutting-edge storytelling. Born from the now-classic gabardine cloth, this design-driven brand keeps evolving, thanks to leaders who proudly put instincts before finance.

New York City

Michael Bloomberg, mayor
Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner, Department of Transportation

With the Big Apple’s 6,300 miles of streets as their canvas, Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan have had plenty of room to experiment. And the city’s gotten a top-notch makeover of late, thanks to the urban-planning risks this pair took: the debut of CitiBike, PlaNYC’s goal of a placing a park within a 10-minute walk of everyone, and sleek new bus stops cropping up everywhere. “Design does matter. And not necessarily in a way that people realize,” says Bloomberg.


Ben Silberman, cofounder and CEO
Evan Sharp, cofounder

The ultimate eye-candy scrapbooking site boasts over 70 million users, in no small part due to its innovative design. Pinterest’s interface turns photo-hoarder syndrome into something beautiful. Says Co-founder Sharp, “I don’t personally value design for its own sake. I value design because it lets us build the most effective, meaningful, and easy-to-use products, and we think that’s valuable for pinners and for Pinterest.” (Take a tour of the company's new headquarters here.)

Warby Parker

Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa, cofounders and CEOs

Launched in 2010, Warby Parker brings new hope to the farsighted: Shopping for specs needn’t be the dreaded, wallet-draining experience it’s always been. Gilboa and Blumenthal got consumers to take a leap of faith and buy their sleek, stylish glasses online--all for less than $100. “Our core principles around design are just simplicity and focus,” says Gilboa, citing brands like Apple, Nike, and Patagonia as inspiration. Also on his list of influences: the blue-footed booby, which Blumenthal encountered in the Galapagos. This web-footed friend is an emblem of the “fun and quirkiness” at the heart of Warby Parker’s brand.


Jason Goldberg, CEO
Bradford Shellhammer, chief design officer

What started as a dud of a gay social-networking site called Fabulis has now turned into a network of makers that exceeds 20,000. The duo at the top are a match made in heaven: “I've always felt like I had something to say in this world, and I didn't know how to say it," says Shellhammer, Fab's chief design officer, a people collector with “100 best friends.” "And Jason has always felt like he wanted to do something in this world, but he didn't know how to get people to look at him." Their democratic approach toward retail means they consider the chili-lime beef jerky Fab carries to be as well designed as an Eero Aarnio Trioli chair. This anti-elitism, combined with a commitment to quality, means Fab may soon be a household name.


Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen Fund
Jocelyn Wyatt, co-lead and executive director of

Novogratz and Wyatt’s cross-organizational relationship is an innovative model for 21st-century business and philanthropy. International design firm Ideo partners with global venture fund Acumen to apply design to change the way the world tackles poverty. Recent joint projects include an online Human-Centered Design for Social Innovation course, which attracted 15,000 participants. “I think the future of business and change in the world will come from organizational relationships like this, where you’re essentially breaking down barriers. That’s really the value of this kind of partnership, and I think we need to see more of these out there in the world,” says Novogratz.


Brian Chesky, CEO
Joe Gebbia, chief product officer

Chesky and Gebbia founded Airbnb by solving a problem through design: They couldn’t pay the rent, so they opened up their home to guests. Now, the startup is a household name and growing faster than ever. Chesky says, “At RISD, they asked us, ‘How do you get design in the boardroom?’ And I always thought, ‘What if design ran the boardroom?’”


Sam Nazarian, founder and CEO
Philippe Starck, designer and architect

Rising entrepreneur Nazarian and legendary French designer Starck describe their partnership as a bit little-brother-big-brother, full of shared passion and humor. The jokey duo has “never had a serious meeting” about their growing family of luxury hotels, nightclubs, and restaurants. When collaborating on designs, says Starck, “We don’t talk about profitability or money or steel, aluminum, or glass. We talk about what our friends, our cultural tribe, are going to experience.” That tribe includes characters from HBO’s Entourage and The Hills, among many glitzy others.


Mark Zuckerberg, cofounder and CEO
Kate Aronowitz, director of brand design

“Beautiful design is something that people don’t even notice,” Aronowitz tells Co.Design. The SCAD graduate is a rare breed, having worked her way up from Photoshopping abs onto muscle-mag models to leading the design team of world-dominating Facebook. She and Zuckerburg maintain that the cool blue-logoed networking site was among the first dot-coms to put graphics and aesthetics first--they’re committed to a principle they call “social design.” At Facebook, engineers and product managers are paired with one of 120 designers in the early stages of any project, so that look and feel are accounted for from the get-go.

The Best CEO-Designer Duos, Part II

This year, Co.Design singled out 25 dynamic partnerships shaping today's most innovative companies, from Airbnb and Facebook to J.Crew and Warby Parker. 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 Warby Parker's commitment to "fun and quirkiness" 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.

Click here to read about the other dynamic duos.

Add New Comment


  • Attempting to read these stories from an iPad is next to impossible. At least the degree of effort involved isn't equally matched to the reward of the story given. Seeing how this is a design blog, it's 2014, y'all should be better than this.