Monday, May 22, 2006

MBA elective week 4: MA/MBA collaboration

The idea of pairing MA/MBA students to work together is not original. What was surprising was the degree of engagement achieved in a face-to-face encounter that only lasted three hours, stimulated by the students' appetites to work on something tangible and learn from each other - and the potential for unusual and sustainable collaboration that might result.
Of the initial briefs created by MBA students (see previous blog post, MBA elective week 2), two were selected by tutor Noam Toran as suitable for the MA students (the others being 'too narrow a space to design in'): a service for sex workers negotiating with clients, and the redesign of economy air transport. During our afternoon at the Royal College of Art, first we saw presentations by the first year MA Design Products students in response to these briefs, ranging from witty and challenging explorations to fundamental reconceptualisations. Then it was the turn of second year students from Design Products and also the MA Interaction Design (with tutor Nina Pope), who wanted an opportunity to work with an MBA student, some of whom had designed service propositions. Students worked in pairs to discuss projects in detail and examine how to take things further, from a design practice perspective and from a management perspective. Finally, the MBA students agreed with their MA pairs a piece of homework from a relevant management discipline to take the project further.
I asked students to consider what design and management practices bring in different ways to invention and design projects; to what extent design can lead and where management disciplines and research activity serve to complement and extend the work of designers. Next week the MBA students will take their turns to present their work to the combined group.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

MBA elective week 3: what designers do well (and what they don't do well)

In our third class I used as a teaching case my onging work as lead designer on a digital media project at Rich Mix, a new cultural venture in east London. Rich Mix partially opened at the end of April, without fanfare, seeking to build up audiences and test processes as different elements of the venture open to the public. For now, you can have lunch in the cafe or go see Mission Impossible in the beautiful cinema designed by Ali Zaidi. Other parts of the organization including its bar designed by Usman Haque, the creative workspaces, BBC London's studio, the performance spaces, and the News Room - the part I'm working on - will open between now and the formal opening in November.

For the purposes of the MBA class, I presented students with a number of artefacts created since I was initially approached by Rich Mix when the leadership team started asking what it could offer its diverse audiences in the way of experiences and content delivered using networked digital media edited by guest editors. What began as an open question along the lines of 'Can we do something interesting that will draw people in and help them connect to Rich Mix and to others?' lead to a design-led process where we tried to answer this, despite not having what managers would see as a business case, or value proposition. The class considered different artefacts created during the design/innovation process to date including an early document outlining the concept; notes, sketches and photos from design workshops; and the current development plan.

At the end of the class, students working in pairs took turns to present a way forward for the Rich Mix News Room as currently conceived, one pair presenting as McKinsey-type strategy consultants; another pair as a technology consultancy such as IBM or Accenture; another as the London Mayor's office; another as the BBC; another as an innovation consultancy. Each of the presentations brought home (sometimes in a hilarious manner) the opportunities, and limitations, of operating within a particular paradigm. The design-led process, as currently enacted for the Rich Mix News Room, also has limits but it does offer a way of generating, and exploring ideas, especially given limited resources, that may lead to designing a viable, sustainable solution (in contrast to the management paradigm described Boland and Collopy in 'Managing as Designing', 2004). The question underpinning the elective, and indeed my research, is what the limits of design leadership are.

What the class discussion reinforced was the need for designers to work alongside managers/decision-makers within organizations, not in isolation. But it also suggested that design methods (such as concept modelling, experience prototyping, scenarios and so on) are powerfully able to develop and communicate ideas, without significant investment, in situations with unframed problems.

Monday, May 08, 2006

MBA elective week 2: practices, processes and methods

In our second session I introduced the project the students will undertake with MA Design Products students from the RCA. We were then joined by tutor Noam Toran, who described some of the briefs (translation for non-designers: project starting points) given to the platform (translation: teaching context in an MA) he teaches at the RCA, and showed some of the work students made in response. We then asked the MBA students to create a brief for the MA students to design a service. As anticipated, the writing of a brief lead to a set of discussions about how to engage with designers; the purpose(s) of this kind of document in these engagements; and the likely responses from designers.
Students worked in small groups and came up with five briefs which have now been sent to the RCA (where they may be modified to meet the educational goals of the college):
- Financial Liberation (about reinventing the relationship of people with their money: a service for people who do not have much money and are excluded from credit, mortgages and financial institutions)
- Invisible Friend (a service to make you feel like you have a friend, but delivered by a team of people, whom you never meet, delivered through different interfaces or service elements)
- Companion Provider (a service so you can hire a person to do friend-like things with you)
- Service, Disservice (aiming to re-invent existing, often badly designed services such as flying economy or the UK post office)
- Safety for Sex Workers (a service to support sex workers when negotiating with clients)
Several of these are clearly very high level - presenting opportunities for both sets of students to explore to what extent design practice/thinking can contribute to radical or incremental innovation. Only one brief specified that the service should make money; in their language and analysis, several demonstrated a desire to respond to social needs (rather than analysing business opportunities).
The MBA students are keen to see what artefacts the MA students will make in response to these ideas. More soon.