Does Your City Need a Chief Design Officer?

Tech companies, non-profits, even government agencies all have Chief Design Officers. Could your community benefit from one? (And what exactly would they do?)

There’s no disputing design’s growing contribution to the evolution of cities. From ambitious public art projects to the rise of the global “design district,” both private and public sectors have begun weaving aesthetics into daily life. This has led to the ascendancy of the “Chief Design Officer”—a figure who often works within tech companies, non-profits, even government agencies, to improve the overall design culture.

Recently, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne left his role at the paper to step into the newly created position of Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles. According to L.A.’s Mayor Eric Garcetti, Hawthorne has been tasked with “bringing a unified design vision to projects that are shaping Los Angeles’ urban landscape,” collaborating with city officials, departments, and architects on a wide range of public projects, from housing to transit. Los Angeles isn’t alone in creating this position. Helsinki, Finland and Edmonton, Canada both recently appointed Chief Design Officers to encourage local governments to reimagine their cities. But what exactly do these CDO’s do? Will all cities one day need them? And can design, let alone a designer, really have an impact on something as big and sprawling (and complicated) as a major metropolis?....more