designers who get MBAs...

there are lots of pros and cons out there for its value to a designer. A lot of people here seem to believe that it is the key to money, power, and happiness, while the Rita Sue Seigles say its not as important as strategic apprenticeships.

personally, I’ve seen good designers start the programs, decide it wasnt for them, and go back to design.

I would like to hear about any real preccedents for designers that get MBAs and go on to sucessful design leadership positions. If it is such sure thing, there should be plently of examples out there…

I looked at the MBA option but I wasn’t crazy about the risk, I’m studying for entry into law school now.

I can understand your question Travisimo, but I don’t know if the answer to it will get you any further though. Strategic design is only just emerging in the business. Until now everything depended mainly on marketing and engineering, and people with this background made it to executive positions where strategies were formed. We as designers have much to owe to Apple freeing the way for us. It is now that business starts to understand the value of design, not only as “surfacing of the product” but on all levels of the business.

So IMO it’s no use to take reference of the past not even what’s going on now, we are going through a paradigm shift here. Look at what sort of opportunities might be created in the future. Will there be a market for designers with MBA’s? I’m sure. If it’s not designers that take up the challenge, then it will be marketers who will get the designskills too when doing their MBA in strategic design management.

Doing an MBA takes at least a year of preparation, plus another one, or two do do the thing, so we’re talking anyway about the business market in a few years from now. A lot of things will have changed by then. Now it’s up to us to decide how big the risk is of investing into an MBA, and if we want to take it…

I’ve been looking into an MBA for a while now. From what I can see, I can do the evening MBA program with a well-known university down here. Could still work and I believe my company will cover the costs. So, it’s free education, but I’ll have to sacrifice just about everything in my life to do so. Bye bye cycling. Bye bye freelance.

So, it’s really not the money that is the issue, it’s the time. Working, going to school, owning a house…that’s a handful. Better get a prescription for some happy pills before I start it.

But the possibilities that follow will be awesome.

Maybe your right and the world is changing for designers wanting to go to the next level. I just wonder whether going through the 3 yrs of an MBA program might dilute hard won design skills a little.

I have some contacts with a Corporate Strategic Design department for a major corporation, and I know for a fact that none of their backgrounds is in business. They just performed exceptionally well at their jobs as designers and were given more responsiblity. The leader had a background in engineering and ID, but had solid design instincts that led the team to successes for the company. I do wonder whether other companies have MBAs in the same positions that can use their business skills. You mentioned Apple, but I’ve never heard of their star design lead having an business background

maybe I’ll ask my friends their thoughts, and post what they say along with the other comments…

A few points:

  1. An Australian professor at CCS, Rob Curedale, has posted on an email forum several times that in Europe, and other parts of the world, post-graduate studies for designers are very common. If that’s true, it’s only a question of time before the same trend hits America.

From what I understand, most of the post-graduate degrees are MBAs, because it is the most directly-applicable masters degree.

  1. The purpose of an MBA is to be able to manage a business and manage people better. If one gets an MBA in order to make better renderings, I think they will feel it was a waste. If one gets an MBA to make their consultancy more efficient, or to try to move to become a project manager, I think they are far more likely to reach their goals.

  2. More education never hurts. An MBA will give one more contacts and more tools to succeed.

I am fortunate enough to both have a stable well-paid job and live in a province where the best university is a great deal. I have made a goal of starting an MBA within 1-2 years, preferably starting fall 2006.

I simply can’t see myself being a full-on designer in another 5 years. Obviously, at that point I should be a director. In 10 years i’d like to be VP of product development/design for a large corporation, as I have a lot of experience in MFD. Will an MBA help in achieveing these goals? Not entirely sure, but some form of post-graduate education would be good IMO. If it’s not an MBA, what kind of classes should I look for? My company will pay for it. Accounting? Project Management courses? Should I even seek a degree?

Thanks Deez and 914 for posting some really good comments. Very helpful. Now I’m starting to question the MBA program (although I still plan on taking the GMAT)

I have an undergrad degree in ID and after about 10 years in the business I got an MBA. My company paid for the whole thing while I went at night. If you get tuition reimbursement as part of your compensation package you’d be a fool not to use it!!!

Why did I do it? At a certain point in everyone’s career they will wake up and realize that you’re much smarter than the idiots in marketing, but they seem to have the keys to the castle. In my case I was sadly lacking the “vocabulary” to take the next step into management.

Was it a lot of work? Absolutely!! I completely re-arranged my life for 3.5 years. Because I was 10 year out of school I was much more organized and better prepared for the demands of school and work.

Was it worth it? I have been in management positions ever since. My salary has been boosted accordingly. Having an MBA on a resume is an eye catcher if you want to get a design management gig.

I caution people that it’s not for everyone. I split my time between Solidworks modeling and evaluating financial models and costing scenarios. It’s like being ambidextrous. Nice work if you can get it…

I think you’ll notice pretty fast that a graduate degree outside of design will earn you more respect. I’ve talked to a number of people who have gone back for an MFA and the reaction from people is always, “oh, thats nice”.

If you have an MBA, people in the business / corporate world tend to have a better idea of what you went through to earn the degree and have more respect for your investment of time and determination. When they hear MFA I think the first impression is that you just sat around doodling on napkins for two years and not much else.

If people are up for it I would also recommend checking out law school. Intellectual property is a growing field and the pay is ridiculous. You just have to be willing to give up 3 years of your life to hard core law studies and then several more years after that preparing for the regular bar exam and the federal bar exam for patents and trademarks. There are also some people out there that have MBA + JD which makes you a super consultant to most major businesses.

The thing to remember is that the days of going to work for one company and having security from day 1 to retirement are over. I heard a great story the other day talking about GM and how the decision for most major businesses these days is do we want to run a business or a welfare state. Many are deciding to go back to business and as a result jobs are going to get cut. The more real transferrable skills you have the better your position no matter where you are. Designers need to learn that sketching will only take you so far. Beyond business knowledge, MBA and law programs teach you soft skills (interpersonal) that you absolutely must have to move up the ladder.

Hi, I just happended to read this thread by chance… and finding it
extremely informative.

I, myself, am seriously considering a post graduate degree and could
not decide whether to pursue masters in ID or not…( frankly, it seems
like a waste of time and money… ? what do you think ?)

I was just begining to research this MBA idea, so I do not know that much
about it yet.
Could anyone here list some reputable school/ program ?
and also how would having a ID degree with MBA help one down the long
term career development?
Most of you have posted here seem to have more than 5 to 8 yrs experience in id.
I am a starting out designer ( about less than 3yrs experience… working
for one of those tele-com corp. )
It has been quite recent that I started to map out my career plan and realized I needed something else to be more than just a designer…

I would appreciate any advice for future career plan…
Thank you.

Got to agree with Deez here. It’s all dependent upon your GMAT score. I just got some books on that test and I’m trying to prepare for it. But if I don’t do well on it, I’m not going to get discouraged because it may not be the thing for me. I’ve been successful with design, but that certainly doesn’t mean I’ll be successful in business.

Oh yeah, Deez, is there any way we could get you to change your icon? I know it’s Rashad and all, but it’s just…well, it’s queer as all get out. Please?!

I’m with 6ix, please, deez, get rid of that thing. Rashid’s going to look back at those glasses in two years and be all like “What was I thinking?”

[quote=“6ix”]…it may not be the thing for me. I’ve been successful with design, but that certainly doesn’t mean I’ll be successful in business.

I have been considing spending the time to prepare and try for a good MBA program, but I do wonder whether it be what I’d really enjoy. I’d hate to go through a program like that and then find myself taking a non-design job to pay it all off - thats why I posted the question about ID who had stepped up to the MBA plate and made it work

One-Word-Plastics’ story sounds optimistic… I’d enjoy hearing more about what exactly he does if he’d like to share his experience

ya deez, pleez get rid of 'em. it’z cheez you wheez!

If you’re not sure whether business is you’re thing I recommend sitting in on a class or two that uses business case studies to teach. I took one of these classes during my undergrad in my university’s graduate business school and it was great. I learned a lot and got a feel for what working in a business environment is like.

The answer to the “where” question is easy:

  • How much can you afford (or your company will pay)?
  • How good are your GMAT scores?
  • Will you be going full time or at night?

To take your ID experience to the next step you really don’t need a big name MBA degree. If you want to catapult yourself into a big consulting corporation (not ID consulting) then go to Harvard or Wharton. Those are were the future CEOs are going.

I would recommend finding an MBA program that has a great marketing program. That’s the natural direction to steer an ID background. I know several designers (including myself) that bounce back-and-forth between design and marketing roles.

I hope this helps.


Sorry, I didn’t see your latest post before I wrote my last reply.

As far as sharing “what I do”. I enjoy the anonymity of this board, so I won’t get too specific. Here are some ID/MBA thoughts I’ve learned from personal experience:

  • I have tried to always work at small to medium sized corporations where you can wear many different hats - and get rewarded for it. If you work for a big company they will make you into either a design guy or an MBA guy. I like to do both. Stay away from being pigeon-holed.

  • Try to understand the job you are interviewing for, then spin your experience towards that direction. Having twin experiences (business & design) ensures you can please some of the people some of the time.

  • Understanding the underpinnings of the business world makes you a smarter designer. There are a lot of variables to a design that aren’t captured on the drawing board (metaphor):

  • Market conditions (how crowded is the competition?)

  • Profit margin and capital requirements?

  • Duty rates and ADD complications

  • I could go on forever…

  • I never do the same thing two days in a row. I like that. I work at a company where I design the products, manage their engineering, develop the costing model, then personally go sell the products to Target and Wal-Mart. How cool is that? The dream job for a control freak. Of course every company has it’s warts, and mine is no different. You just need to weigh the good against the bad and determine if there’s a better job elsewhere. Today the answer is no. That may change tomorrow.

There is a guy I know who did a dual degree, Master of Design and an MBA together.

Here are some details about him,

While you were out: changes in the global design industry is the intro

and a followup of what he’s doing now at Motorola here

“All innovation is done in Europe” – we get that a lot here. Please go and bitch in the USA DESIGN CRAP topic instead.

I don’t know about England, but DeWalt Germany only does hammers. It’s designed and made in Germany, that’s all they do over there.

Many of the designs are done in Towson. The planers, the sanders, the routers, the radio, the impact wrench, the drills, the saws and just about everything else. Even some made just for the European market. Don’t challenge me either, I spent some good time there.