Wednesday, April 26, 2006

MBA elective starts today: design leadership v design management

Today's the first class of the elective in Design Leadership that I'm teaching to MBA students at the Saïd Business School (SBS) at Oxford University. This is the first such elective at the school, and one of relatively few round the world. The first wave of 'design management' teaching in business schools in the 1980s-90s such as at London Business School is now giving way to what might be seen as a second wave, with a focus on 'design leadership' and 'design thinking'. Examples are Stanford's d-school, and the new school of management and design at Zollverein in Germany. These programmes are building on earlier work by designers, design managers and academics which established the need for a better understanding of the interfaces between design and organisations.

Our eight-week course at the Saïd, which 19 MBAs have signed up for, aims to equip students with an understanding of the processes, methods and practices within design disciplines; expose them to the influential theories, models, frameworks of analysis for managing design activity; help them develop a vocabulary with which to communicate ideas about design and design management both with designers and with others; and enable them to develop relevant skills to use within management contexts. Part of the activity includes a joint project with MA Design Products students from the Royal College of Art, London, working with designer and tutor Noam Toran. The design of the elective draws on my experience of leading design teams including multidisciplinary groups grappling with complex problems in which no single discipline has all the answers.

The pre-class task I set the class proved very powerful. I asked the students to take photos and screenshots of two examples of good design, and two examples of bad design, at the SBS - a shared context in which the architecture, interior design, service and process design, intranet and IT services provided a rich environment for students to consider and critique. As the students presented their examples one by one, definitions of 'good' and 'bad' design emerged, which led on to a structured discussion about how designs (outcomes) are designed (process), and to what extent organizational structures and roles are equipped to facilitate good design - or to lead by design. In the second half of the class, we watched the ABC television documentary in which IDEO designers re-design the shopping trolley in five days. Extracting from this a set of design practices, the students then worked in pairs to use this process to say how they would go about re-designing some of the artefacts in the school they found were badly designed. These hands-on exercises helped students reflect on the material reality of design decisions and begin to understand the organizational issues involved in managing design practices - whether done by designers or others.

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