designers who get MBAs...

I did ID consulting for about 6 years before going to the above mentioned Wharton. I finished my MBA 3 years back. My goal was to gain more professional flexibility in terms of function, sector and location. It was not to enhance my ID career, or even to make a bunch of money. Given that fact, I did not give too much thought to the benefits of an ID / MBA combination.

The year I graduated was a bit of an aberration in terms of the job market, so my experience may not be completely representative, but I found few synergies between ID and business management. The view of ID seems to be as a highly specialized and specific competency. Recruiters in those industries that had a high degree of exposure to design (automotive, athletic apparel) tended to have a very stereotypical view of designers. I was more warmly received by those who had no idea what industrial design was.

Outside of staying in ID, I think the degree does open doors, not just to other fields but also to other industries. The limit of ID is you are, for the most part, restricted to companies that make industrially produced durable products. MBA professions tend to be more portable, you can work in finance, media, pharma, energy, food, you name it, they all need management talent.

In my opinion, if the objective is to stay in ID, I don’t know that an MBA adds much. The exception would be if you work for a corporation and they commit to develop you professionally.

If you do decide to apply, cast a wide net, the admission process is a little random for those from non-traditional backgrounds (i.e. design). But in that randomness opportunities can be found. I applied to 8 schools, got into 2, wait-listed by 2, rejected by 4. The GMAT will be key; a good score shows that you are not mathematically challenged. If the first digit is a 7 you should be ok.


As a sometime director of admissions at the institute of design and another MBA holder who suffered the vagaries of the past three/four years, I would like to just say that this is one of the most succinct supportive arguments for an MBA ifyou are a designer. Well done! I would however, just like to add that you can learn a lot about design at B School.

Thanks for the comment and link, it’s always interesting to hear what others are doing. I agree that a lot can be learned from an MBA, more education never hurts. I was coming from a very pragmatic viewpoint in this case. Since the degree is a large investment in time and money I think it is critical know what you want to get out of it. There may be some options career wise that would support a design + business background, but I think it pays to have that path clearly identified before going back to school (what companies can you work for, in what role, who within the company will support you).

Based on my experience with small ID consultancies and the MBA recruiting process in 2002 I did not see any of these opportunities. But just because I did not see them does not mean they don’t exist, or that there aren’t new ones that will be created in the coming years. That’s why I take a peek at this board every now and again to keep up with what’s happening.

can i ask how old people were when they started/completed their MBAs/post grads

also, cutting to the chase, what percentage have you seen your pay increase, and what is your new job title?

my thoughts are, fuck it, as a designer, architect, blah… whatever… unless you are an uberstar, you will always be compromising your best efforts for the “man” the “client” or the target “joe sixpack” market

better to get a postgrad, earn some real cashish and develop stuff you really like with no restrictions once you have established yoself


Hello~It is interesting that everyone talk a lot here.Now,I am a university student in Shanghai China,but I still want to say something about if we need to get MBAs. The world is full of challenge, as a designer ,there are much more things we should thinking about.Not only be money,power,or happiness. Though we need market,high-thecnology to support our idea,the feeling of ourself is important,too.

…as designers, most of us have had a bad experience with some mba turning our work into so much shit…i am all for being smarter designers…i am not so sure that going over to the dark side is the thing for us to do…better to learn to build concensus throughout the project with marketing and management…get used to the fact that 80% of what we do goes in the trash can…we knew the job was dangerous when we took it.


Here are the answers to you questions:

  • 32 years old
  • Double / VP


My decision to get an MBA was motivated by a strong desire to be a change-maker within my company (corporate), not to go over to the dark side. A designer’s voice within a corporation is dim compared to someone with a combined marketing/product development background. The more tools you can add to your tool box the more effective you will be within an organization. This is true for both design and management.

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, getting an MBA isn’t the right thing for everyone. Your career goals may not require a business degree. There are some very talented designers that will have great careers without any business background.

Let me ask you, how many 50 year old designers do you know?

I decided I didn’t want to wake up one day and discover I was 50 years old and was just replaced by someone half my age for half of my salary. I needed a more robust background as a generalist so I couldn’t be off-shored. I still work in a corporate environment, but so far this year over 20 people have asked me when I plan to start my own company. I think I just may do that if a few more people ask…

…being 55 myself, i know more than just a few…more to your point; i experience your concern everyday…i encourage everyone to become as x-functional as they can be…just resist assimilation.

can I ask how your role changed after your MBA?
What are you doing differently now? (ie was the MBA essetial to your new role in terms of learnt skills)


-34 years old

  • Double/ Director

niti and one word

thanks for the info, very rare to get anything of use from these boards.

director and vp in the u.s. mean something very different in aus.

i.e. director, here, implies you are on the board (am assuming you are not)
and president, while rarely used, would imply something equivalent to a ceo/md, again am assuming an mba did not facilitate that much of a leap

my point is, have your roles changed? are you still involved in design at all, eg managing a design team, looking after their budget etc, or have you moved away into another, more strategic, role within the r&d sector?

also, and finally, did you have to leave the comapny you were with to get the “bump” or did you get promoted interanlly post mba?


on the board. mba crystallized the experience into neat little matrix frameworks :stuck_out_tongue:

immersed in design, strategically

fulltime mba between one job and the next

on the board! at 34!

(spits latte foam across monitor (in shock))

nice one


can i ask, is it your own company? is it publically traded?

not being rude, just very suprised… you can only possibly have 10-15 years experience, only half of which would be valid strategically.

it would be tough to sell that to the shareholders…

not saying it isnt possible, but i’m sure you would agree, it’s pretty rare to see someone of your vinatage in such a position,

mba or not

I graduated from the MBA program in 2001, just a couple of months after my 35th birthday. Put in a years training in tech transfer, VC, startups through a Heinz Foundation Fellowship. Reported to the founder of as a director at AND am now on the board of a closely held family company = so both, in a kinda way, but not publicly traded, either one of them.

not tough to sell to the shareholders, see

and currently am advising CEO’s - vintage is almost 40

dude, you’re forcing me to not be humble, aaargh

this is really interesting so far, thanks to all the responders

If I could ask another question; what exactly do you do with the MBA, especially in a design position?

I don’t want to know inside info on your companies of course, but what is it that makes an MBA, especially one from the renown schools, so valuable? I work with execs at times, so I hear alot of business talk, but for the jump in salary, etc… just curious of your take on that


Yeah, Im pretty convinced after this… now for the the tough part

I am still kind of curious about the details though. Im sure I’ll get in up to my nose later

I’ll share an interesting realted experience from last weekend: I was enjoying a coffee near Rice U., home of a well known MBA program, and a group of (I’m guessing) MBA grad students were there doing a group assignment. They were ideating out a concept business for class. It sounded like they each had good experience in different backgrounds, some medical, some administrative, etc… Medical won, and they were trying to figure out their niche in a MRI service that was normally a hassle. It was really interesting what they were discussing, I eavesdropped for a while… how to organize the business, who they could partner with, where to get capital, staffing, even how to transition from startup to self sufficiency. I almost wanted to join in, it was so much like designing a product - it was a product.

I could totally an IDer with a strong background could pick a topic in our daily lives and create a solid service or produce a product. I generally see how it could work internally in a company too - somehow making a business case for spending lots of money on cool products that might have unpredictable success… or maybe how to ensure the success.

inspiring… definitly a mover-shaker position

I’m finishing up my part-time MBA. I’ve been working in ID for 12 years. The group projects are there, and they are fun (depending on your group), but 80% of the work can be really straining. You’ll be taking a couple of stats classes, financial accounting, economics, etc… If you go to a top 25 MBA program, they’re going to push the heck out of you. If you are not prepared to give up the next 2+ years of your free time, I wouldn’t do it, especially if you have a young family.

I work corporate now, and with an MBA I can branch out and start leading programs on the marketing side or the engineering side, just to mix it up a bit. I don’t think I want to get involved in anything really heavy, but a lighter projects which I can carry to term but still remain in the ID function.