Wednesday, August 27, 2008

MBA Design Leadership elective - session 1

What do we mean by design?

This first session introduces the MBA students to fundamental ideas about design - what it is, why it matters, and how we make judgements about good or bad design outcomes. Many people feel they want definitions before they start talking about something. Much of the session was based around a group "crit" (or critique) of designs at Said Business School. The students come from a range of countries, professions and backgrounds - some (on the executive part-time MBA) had just flown in from South Africa and Hawaii. What they all share, however, is the experience of the school, its architecture, its processes and systems, its website and intranet, its marketing collateral and events, its catering, and of course its learning experience. I asked students to bring examples of two things at the school they think are well-designed and two that are badly designed, based on their own criteria. One of the things that came up several times as badly designed was the power sockets built into the floors of the lecture theatres and seminar rooms (pictured). They can present a trip hazard and are hard to clean - and for people like many of our students who are using non-UK adaptors, they are inconvenient to use. Good design examples included the architecture and the new intranet. As examples were presented, this built up the realization of that all the things around us have been designed by someone- not necessarily by a designer ("silent design"). The exercise also emphasized the difficulty of articulating criteria for successful design, and led to a discussion about who is responsible for design in organizations. The architect we can name - but we don't know who designed many of the processes, for example.

We went through some of the terminology often associated with design and made the important distinction between design as outcome and design as process. We considered the claim that design is about balancing form and function and updated this with Heskett's terms utility and significance and Krippendorff's calls for a human-centred design that focuses on the meanings created by stakeholders. We also looked at the criteria "useful, usable and desirable" as ways of evaluating design outcomes (from Cagan and Vogel, Creating Breakthrough Products). But Vitruvius' three criteria on which this seems to be based- some two thousand years old - are still robust enough to be used.

This class had two main aims - getting students to see the designed artefacts all around us, including the ones that haven't been designed by a professional designer; and developing a critical language that informs the success of design outcomes.

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