Good design can improve leadership by making big data accessible

After a lesson in typography and an explanation of his lifelong passion in bringing technology and design together, John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, laid out his view of the future challenge facing leaders now that social media and technology have overturned the traditional company hierarchy. Fortunately, the solution to that challenge appears to be a applying good design to a lot of data.

The crux of the leadership problem as Maeda sees it is that the hierarchical format with CEOs at the top and layers of management below them has been upended. “That hierarchy has been hurt indefinitely because anyone can talk to anyone else,” he said at the GigaOM RoadMap conference Monday in San Francisco. “You can’t control the flow of information between people anymore. There is a heterarchy and the CEO has been pulled into the middle of that.”

He implied that this opens up opportunities for creative people to become leaders, but he directly stated that creative people could help make any leader in this new heterarchical structure more effective. The secret to effectiveness in this brave new management world is making all of the data a leader has at their fingertips easily understandable, and to use design to connect concepts and relationships amid a mess of information.

So for Maeda, the question is both how do you lead in this new age of the heterarchy as well as how you can use design to support the leader. But in the 15 minutes before he got to that point, he led a fun intro into the importance of typography as an example of how design puts form to content, classified the difference between startup culture and larger company culture (he calls those “end ups” as opposed to startups,) and offered a book recommendation. As as one would expect, his slides were awesome. So check out the video for an entertaining talk and for startups out there thinking about data visualizations, check out his last few minutes to understand visually how design and data can aid leaders. Any company who can build those links will make a mint.

Check out the rest of our RoadMap 2012 live coverage here, and that video recording of the session follows below: