Introducing: Benedikt Lehnert and his ideas on Radical Self-Inquiry and Creative Leadership

Membership

For our latest DXC member spotlight, we would like you to meet Benedikt Lehnert, Stark’s Chief Design Officer. Born into a family of craftspeople in Saarland, Germany, you could say that Benedikt’s special skill for design is written into his genes. In 2003, he launched his own design agency called Squild, gaining awards for the top-tier hardware and software products he produced for international clients, including a platform used by the Gates Foundation funded scientific HIV research network called GHRC. In 2011, Benedikt moved to Berlin to join a technology startup and became a key component in the burgeoning tech community in the German capital. This was an early indication of his desire to break the mold in the field of digital design.

Benedikt’s influence in the design industry has been significant. He has shaped the global design language of SAP and Microsoft, two software companies that touch and improve the lives of billions of people. He was an integral part of the startup exit that saw Microsoft acquire Wunderlist. Benedikt’s design contributions to the products and services at such companies as Microsoft and SAP continue to ripple through the industry today.

Benedikt is a design executive who straddles the worlds of business and design. His expansive portfolio spans everything from multinational corporations to dynamic startups. This is a designer that blends high-level business skills, and a keen eye for creative, hands-on design execution, and whatever the product or customer might be or need. Beyond his corporate roles, Benedikt is the author of Typoguide, a pocketbook on typography that included a foreword written by Erik Spiekermann, an international keynote speaker, and a committed angel investor in design-driven startups. The work of his teams have received global recognition and multiple prestigious awards, including winning both Red Dot and IF Design Awards in 2022 for SAP’s new design language. Additionally, Benedikt is a Fellow for Entrepreneurship & Design at Princeton University, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate students as a member of the Keller Center’s faculty.

In his current role as Chief Design Officer at Stark, a venture-backed startup, Benedikt is spearheading efforts to make software universally accessible. With 97% of the internet still being inaccessible for people with disabilities, he views this as one of the biggest, most meaningful design challenges of the 21st century. It sits right at the intersection of technology, business, and human rights. Benedikt’s mission is to revolutionize how people can access more human-centric technology by developing the infrastructure, tools, and approaches needed to transform the digital landscape for everyone.

Before joining Stark, he took on the monumental responsibility of revamping the customer experience and design language at two global software giants: Microsoft and SAP. As the Chief Design Officer at SAP he reported to the Executive Board and spearheaded the global transformation of SAP’s design function and approach.

Prior to SAP, Benedikt left a strong legacy at Microsoft. During his nearly 6 year tenure, he held several design leadership roles, most recently as Director of Product Design for Microsoft’s Fluent, Office, and M365 Experiences where his work evolved Microsoft’s look and feel across their wide range of productivity platforms, products and services.

His connection with Microsoft was forged in 2015 when the company acquired Wunderlist, a beloved cross-platform productivity app where he was Chief Design Officer. Under his guidance, Wunderlist received numerous awards and became the to-do list app with a devoted following of over 15 million users.

Away from these career achievements, Benedikt is inspired by simple, wholesome pursuits. He tells us that when he needs to think about a project or unwind, “Nothing beats a walk in nature on a brisk fall day.” We can attest to that. What’s more, in tandem with his analytical, or business-minded design philosophies, something drives him that is far more meaningful. He is inspired by a desire, “To leave the world better than I found it, mostly for my daughter and the generation that will follow. This, in my opinion, is both the imperative and essence of design.”

To get to know our newest member a little better, we thought we would delve into Benedikt’s personal ideas for driving the design profession forward, as well as the pressing changes he thinks are needed in design leadership. We also want to understand Benedikt’s vision for the Design Executive Council (DXC) and its potential to reshape the design leadership profession.

Radical Self-Inquiry and Craft Knowledge: The Bedrock of Design Leadership

When we asked our new member about the knowledge focuses that are essential for advancing the design profession, he discussed three key pillars.

1. Radical self-inquiry

Benedikt says “The products we make are a direct reflection of us” and with it emphasizes the necessity for leaders to delve deep into their personal experiences and work through their own personal story. He believes that this self-awareness is pivotal in creating a nurturing environment for their teams, allowing creative cultures to flourish and drive innovation. This perspective shines a light on the emotional intelligence and empathy required of creative leaders in the 21st century.

2. Strong sense of business strategy

Design serves business by bringing customer needs and business goals in harmony. It is imperative for creative leaders to be excellent business leaders – navigating and speaking the language of business, so that we can inspire CEOs, employees, analysts and customers alike.

3. Deep knowledge of the craft

Benedikt underscores the critical need for design and product executives to possess not just business acumen but also a profound understanding and love for the creative craft itself. In his view, world-class creative executives must seamlessly merge a deep knowledge for the craft with business expertise.

Vision for Design Executive Council (DXC)

Benedikt’s vision for DXC is in perfect alignment with his belief in the integrated approach and clarity essential in design leadership. He sees DXC as a powerhouse of knowledge capable of driving substantial change in the design profession.

1. Deep Industry Research and Data

Benedikt sees DXC as a key resource for invaluable industry research and data that can shape the future of design education, steering the profession toward greater impact. Additionally, he believes that DXC can offer critical insights to business leaders across various fields, empowering them to leverage the benefits of exceptional user experiences for business growth.

2. A Global Network of Design Executives

By connecting the best design executives worldwide, DXC can facilitate the sharing of insights and knowledge, creating an ecosystem that supports the next generation of creative leaders.

3. Raising the Benchmark

Benedikt’s ultimate hope is that DXC can elevate the standards of creative leadership, showcasing the significant positive impact it can have on both businesses and society.

Gordon Ching, Founder & CEO of Design Executive Council, welcomes Benedikt’s decision to join the DXC., “We are absolutely thrilled to have a world-class design leader like Benedikt join as a Founding Member and Board Advisor,” he says. “His remarkable expertise in nurturing world-class teams and his seamless integration of design strategy and craftsmanship perfectly align with our mission. Benedikt has been a pivotal contributor and friend to DXC before its inception, and we are excited to formalize his role as a Founding Member and Board Advisor, ensuring his invaluable insights and perspectives continue to enrich the Council."

About

Benedikt Lehnert