Everywhere we look we see corrupt, greedy, out-of-touch leadership. As customers become better and better informed, this narcissistic leadership is ushering in an era of deep distrust. That will have significant implications for design thinking.

The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has had a long and successful history. It used to be that when you became head of the IFA you were paid enough to hire someone to run your farm while you were running the IFA. You also got paid basic travel expenses.

But something happened along the way and the ‘modern’ executives started giving themselves incredible pay rises until the head honcho was earning nearly half a million euro a year, not to mention lavish pension plans. Secrecy was everything to these boys. They absolutely scoffed at the idea of transparency, hiding behind the fact that some big accounting firm ‘audited’ them and agreed that, yes, these most super of supermen deserved to get paid super, super well.

Ordinary farmers pay for these super salaries and bonuses. Farmers who earn an average wage of €25,000 a year, working 7-day weeks, constantly in debt as they pay for equipment. When these farmers discovered how much the big boys were getting paid they did something unusual. They rose up, initially getting several of these big boys fired, and then demanding the resignation of the entire executive board.

Last year in Ireland, it was charity ‘executives’ who were discovered to be sticking their greedy hands into the pot of donations from the public to give themselves huge wads of cash, because, you know, they deserved it. They’re special, unique, irreplaceable.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

  • “The more CEOs are paid, the worse the firm does over the next three years,” Michael Cooper, co-author of a study at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, states
  • For large, established companies, “it’s very hard to show that picking one well-qualified CEO over another has a major impact on corporate performance,” Michael Dorff, author of the book, "Indispensable and Other Myths," writes
  • If the company with the two-hundred-and-fiftieth-most-talented CEO suddenly managed to hire the most talented CEO, its value would increase by a mere 0.016 percent, a study by Xavier Gabaix and Augustin Landier found
  • Higher pay fails to promote better performance, a study by Philippe Jacquart and J. Scott Armstrong found
  • Visual design and emotive language has been cleverly used by such management to fool customers into believing in the ‘brand.’ Clever PR propaganda has been used to present the ‘compelling business case’ for the utterly indefensible

We are seeing the emergence of an anti-visual design movement, as more and more customers are becoming distrustful of smiling faces, soft tones and soft language. As customers’ eyes are opened to the reality of how most organizations actually treat them, we’re getting banner blindness, marketing blindness, advertising blindness, communication and PR spin blindness. For too long, beauty has been used to cover for the beast of greed and narcissism. The Web and social media is peeling away the mask.

Simplicity, usefulness, functionality, details and facts, transparency — these are the pillars of the new digital design. We trust what we can quickly and easily use but only as long as it’s useful. Design for use. Design for usefulness. Blind trust is gone forever to be replaced by impatience and skepticism.