DESIGN MANAGEMENT is an area bristling with paradoxes. Managing a team of creative individuals within a manufacturing firm can only be paradoxical.
One of these is the paradox of creative organization.
Consider how design centers are organized. Organized, of course, for the purpose of creating new products.
When I arrived at Renault in October 1987, the existing organization was founded on styling. This term was used in opposition to design.
To caricature it, I would describe it as an isolated premises within a manufacturing complex, only communicating on a professional level with the outside via two hatches: a hatch in, through which the stylists receive their technical specifications, and an exit hatch, through which they deliver their drawings.
Within, isolated to such an extent that they could have been outside the complex altogether, we find two large rooms: Exterior Styling and Interior Styling. Tucked away in the corner is a minor activity called Color and Trim.
Who draws up and communicates the specifications to stylists? Men and women in Product Planning, in gray trouser suits, former students from engineering and business schools.
Who comes along to collect the stylists' sketches and models, taking care of the rest? The men in white coats: engineers and technicians from our Engineering Department.
In an organization such as this, the stylist is generally looked upon as a nonentity. In the eyes of the engineers, if we recall a famous expression from a Renault Engineering Department boss in the 1960s, the stylist is simply there to 'dress up the hunchback,' in other words, make presentable the deformed structures dreamed up by the technicians.
The stylist's activities, which have an artistic side to them, tend to attract senior managers, who regularly venture into Styling and can then find themselves seduced by a great sketch or drawing hanging on the wall.
I would add that the isolated nature of stylists within such a structure has nevertheless the advantage of protecting their cultural distinctiveness, in surroundings that are primarily technology-oriented.
Senior management judged this organization incapable of taking on the challenge of the future. Thus was created in January 1988 the Renault Corporate Design department, as a replacement for Renault Styling.
I created an additional room for Color and Trim which now became a complete unit in its own right. The entrance area was also considerably enlarged and turned into another new unit: Advanced Design, largely oriented towards the outside. It successfully established itself as a meeting point where Design could take part in the drawing up of technical specifications, and where research into new vehicles like the Megane Scenic could be prepared, through the development of concept cars.
Behind the former Styling house, we set up a third new unit - Design Quality - charged with following projects beyond the styling freeze stage, into actual manufacture.
Communicating doors were set up between all the departments. A new body of design professionals was created: liaison officers. These design project managers had the job of making sure that the whole Design function was moving in unison, respecting - intelligently now, no longer slavishly - technical specifications, including planning and budgetary constraints. All the while, they were in close contact with other project heads, particularly in Product Planning and Engineering.
This organization operated from 1988 to 1996, eight years in all. Then it, in turn, was replaced by a new structure, that I put in place just six months ago.
What is actually done in a design center?
Two types of activity must be carefully distinguished.
First of all, the initial design itself, an act of creation. It takes place in a black box. It's a mysterious activity, that I wouldn't hesitate to describe as magical. As magical as sleep or dreaming. An act of creation is more than just personal: it is intimate.
And then there is the second development activity, which involves transforming the drawing into an industrial product, eventually manufactured in thousands of units per day, after being defined to such an end by the departments of Product and Process Engineering. The creation of a new motor vehicle then ceases to be the work of just one man. Work takes on a social dimension.
The most significant piece of progress achieved when we replaced Renault Styling with Renault Corporate Design 'mark one' was the destruction of a system of 'hierarchical aesthetics,' under which system the highest-placed individuals in the company, all departments included, were the ones with the best ideas and the best taste.
Having said that, I can now turn to the focused organization, and try and explain to you why I felt the need to change once again.
There are two reasons. Generally, it is good to reorganize things at regular intervals. Like all creations of Man, industrial organizations go through key cycles and find themselves inescapably exposed to ossification before death. Our aim is to liquidate them before this fatal stage arrives in order to achieve a programmed renaissance.
Second reason: an important change occurred in my own role in January 1995 when the management board gave me, in addition to my design responsibilities, control over the Department of Quality. Hence, I found myself short of that precious commodity, time.
I already didn't find 12 hours a day enough to complete all my tasks as head of Design. And with Quality on top, the needle went well into the red! Like all managers or company bosses in the same situation, this reflex of economic survival got the better of me. I had to focus my attention on the essentials of the business, limit myself to just that which is necessary.
When you are directing a center of creation, what is it that counts the most? Protect the black box of creation, and structure oneself so as to be able to blend in with the company's overall organization as harmoniously and smoothly as possible.
I will not describe my new organization for you. That would take too much of our time. I will simply say that it allows me today to devote all my time as director of Renault Design to the creative act, in direct contact with my 50 designers at their drawing boards.
At the same time, the organization has been considerably strengthened from the points of view of functional units and 'projects.'
The functional hierarchy, which was once one of the flattest in the company, has been increased by one level. Hence, the contrast between the almost complete absence of hierarchy in the organization focused on the creative process, and the heightened solid pyramid in development.
In the field of design, I would certainly not go as far as the philosopher Theodore Adorno, who maintained that the secular function of art in society is to be useless and antisocial and that an art form integrated into the society would betray its very nature. But we are here, with the paradox I am in the process of describing to you, before a reality which is really disconcerting.
All those in charge of the creative process in companies more or less comparable to Renault from the point of view of activity, live with this paradox of the creative organization. This paradox seeks a reconciliation between creative disorder and the standard, between social order and anarchy, between respect for the hierarchy and sanctioned, consensual disrespect.