Monday, October 01, 2007

Design management - metamorphosis

Design management is a discipline, or interdiscipline, in transition. A recent seminar held at London College of Communications brought together researchers, lecturers and practitioners who work within or on the boundaries of this area. The aim of the day was to create a platform to sustain further debate, analysis and action.

Organized by Naomi Gornick (Brunel), Tom Inns (Dudee), Tony Kent (LCC) and others, the workshop involved this diverse group exploring definitions of design management, its relation to other bodies of knowledge and the value of connecting practice, education and research. Participants included those with a long-standing commitment to research and teaching in this area including Alan Topalian and Brigitte Borja. In discussions there were references back to key workshops and reports in the 1980s, the decade during which design management emerged - with an occasional suggestion that 'none of this is new'.

Les Wynn's account of his role within Xerox raised some of the questions facing both design managers, and the discipline as a whole. Wynn asked how design management must change, given the changing business models facing many organizations to which outsourcing is a common response. Is design just another function of the organization or is it a key capability that should definitely stay in house?

What came across strongly for me was how there continues to be a confusion between design, and design management. Participants discussed design management on both a project level and an organization level. They seemed to be agreement that design management was connected with strategy, and that its visibility and accountability to the highest level of the organization is key to its effectiveness.

I would not expect to see design management emerge as a single, authorizing discipline to build on this earlier history. Rather I notice a number of areas in which the ideas of both design and design management have been taken into conversations about strategy, innovation and organizational design - in the approaches discussed in Boland and Collopy's Managing as Designing, for example, the founding of the d-School at Stanford, the MBA at the Zollverein School of Management and Design and the establishment of Design London (Imperial College, Tanaka Business School and the Royal College of Art). In this diverse and diversifying area of practice and research, I suspect design management is likely to remain fluid. Workshops such as this one will have an important role in bringing together some of that diversity.

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