Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Design in business education/business in design education

I joined a workshop of academics held at the Department of Trade and Industry in London, organized by the UK Design Council, as part of an an iniative to follow up the recent Cox Review on creativity in British business which had a considerable focus on design. My interest was on the recommendations for higher education, particularly the recommendations to have stronger links between design education and management education; closer links with small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) and the creation of centres of excellence.

As I understand it there are no immediate plans to set up an initiative with new public investment to support these recommendations. Rather, the discussion is among higher education institutions which are already working in this area - some of them design schools (such as the RCA with its long-standing relationship with Imperial College, London) and some of them business schools with design initiatives (my own context). For some, the emphasis is on innovation, creativity and entrepreneuship; for others the focus is on design practice and its links to and engagement with other specialists. A guest speaker in the afternoon showed one model - a teaching initiative created by Manuel Sosa, assistant professor of technology management at INSEAD recently written up by Business Week. His MBA elective in Strategies for Product and Service Development is about managing innovation from an interdisciplinary perspective and now involves 8-10 design students from Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, California) who spend a term at INSEAD and take classes with the MBAs. Later, some of the MBAs visit Pasadena for a week's field trip. Students work together to develop product and service ideas using design techniques as well as management techniques.

Monday, July 10, 2006

MBA elective weeks 8 + 9: icons, standards, quality and failure

We were joined for our final class at Oxford by a guest speaker, Mat Hunter who works at IDEO's London office, who I asked to talk about failure. A video of this presentation will be available soon. Mat's presentation provided a frank and critical account of this world-leading design consultancy with analysis and anecdotes of Mat's favourite failures. He presented a framework for understanding design created by one of their clients, Claudia Kotchka, P&G's VP for design innovation, which distinguishes between different ways that design works: no conscious design; design as styling; design as form and function; design as problem-solving; and design as framing. IDEO currently presents itself as a company grounded in design which can help clients answer the question, "What's the future for my company?" IDEO's well-known phrase 'fail often to succeed more' based on design thinking was, Mat argued, a way to achieve disruptive innovation - currently considered essential to generate growth.

There was one more class in the elective, rescheduled from an earlier date due to the illness of the guest speaker, Chris Downs, managing partner of a service design and innovation company called live|work, based in London, Newcastle and New York. Since we were not able to re-arranged a date with Chris, the class voted to go to London once more to see the graduation show at the Royal College of Art, London, with work by MA students, including Design Products and Interaction Design students whom we had worked with a few weeks earlier. Having toured the exhibition which also included work by students from other design practices, we sat in Hyde Park and discussed the themes that emerged from both the exhibition, the work presented in it, and again design and its relation to innovation and entrepreneurship. The MBAs also reflected on how they might try to bring some of the practices they had been exposed to into their future careers; and the extent to which organizations of different kinds enact design leadership, whether design as strategy, design as process or design as visual differentiation.

Friday, July 07, 2006

MBA elective week 6: users and usability

In this class we looked in more detail about ideas which are particularly part of the language and practices of those designing products and services using digital and networked technologies. Concepts such as user-centred design, usability, affordances and inclusive design are increasingly current in the practices of interaction designers, experience designers and service designers, sometimes working in collaboration with social science specialists such as sociologists, anthropologists or psychologists, or sometimes with the designer acting as researcher or data-gatherer. These ideas are increasingly critical in a context in which the visual or stylistic qualities of a designed artefact may not be sufficient to gain acceptance among users. To make some of the reading more meaningful, the class went through a role play exercise in which some of them had responsibility for re-designing a service for a city council. Some of the others acted as service users (actual or potential). The structured scearnio forced the MBAs playing the council managers and re-design team to ask themselves how to evaluate potential service improvements, how to gather data about the service and its users and the nature of different kinds of data produced by different techniques, and how to engage with users.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

MBA elective week 5 - MBA/MA collaboration

This week my 19 Oxford MBA students and I paid our second trip to the Royal College of Art in London, the final part of our collaborative project. The previous week MA and MBA students had paired up, with the aim firstly, of talking in more detail about the MA students' presentations/project proposals and considering how to take them further; and secondly, of reflecting on their different ways of working - the practices of each discipline and assumptions embedded within them. This week, each MBA student presented the work they had done towards the MA student's project. The nature of the work depended on what the project needed and what the student pair agreed. Management student contributions ranged from market research to a feasibility analysis to a production strategy.

What excited me most - having earlier encountered anxiety among some MBAs about their role in relation to the MAs (manager? consultant?) - was to what extent they engaged with the designers' concepts, however fantastical. The first year designers, most of whom had developed concepts in response to service design briefs the management students had set, had come up with ideas which in some cases challenged an entire industry and infrastructure. One of the MBAs did a feasibility study of a designer's proposal to replace economy air travel with a service involving packing travelers into crates and stacking the crates in the airplane (which came out of the brief to improve economy air travel). Another did a competition analysis and pricing strategy for a proposed sex van service (which came out of the safety for sex workers brief). The second year designers, only weeks away from their final MA show, had more developed projects for which they sometimes needed quite specific advice - how to market the product, how to develop a production strategy, how to develop a revenue model. This mix of the conceptual, the faintly ridiculous and the urgent made for a lively and thought-provoking session. My students later commented how much these MA students confounded their expectations about designers. They looked the part but could present complex, innovative ideas vividly and effectively. And what ideas...

At the end of the session, three pairs said they intended to stay and in touch and keep talking. One MBA student decided to devote his summer project to addressing the strategic and production issues of one of the MA student's products, Tomas Alonso and his STAMP cutlery (the photo shows Tomas holding his cutlery: the power of a prototype). As I had hoped when designing the elective, the encounter with the designers and design practices, in this case in a design school, made meaningful the ideas we had explored in the readings about 'design thinking'. In parallel. the questions of how the world is understood and engaged with, and the nature of the differing knowledges of each practice, became easier to talk about through the designers and management students having shared material to reference. Later on I'll reflect on how we might do things differently next year.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Unfortunately I've been unwell recently and not been able to update the blog so the summaries of my MBA elective teaching don't follow the dates of when they actually happened. I doubt many readers care but it might be relevant to future MBA students considering doing my course.