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.

No comments: