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.

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