Designers with MBAs

I just wanted to ask around and find out how popular it is for designers to go on and get an MBA. I’ve found that lately I’ve become very interested in the Design Strategy/Thinking aspect of design, and currently have a Minor in Business to go along with my BID. I’m considering eventually pursuing an MBA, and would love to hear from any that have done the same, or are aspiring to do so.

Those of you that have MBAs, how do you feel it has benefited your career? What type of position did you find yourself in before and after getting it? How do you see your career evolving with an MBA?

Any thoughts and discussion on the matter would be greatly appreciated.


The strategic management of a company and its line of products is useful in gaining and expanding upon market shares where other companies do not have this competitive, dynamic approach which can adapt to difficult market conditions.

In the companies which I have worked for their strategic management of products was confused and often salesmen let, where specific clients dictated what specifications for products. This lead to a confusing array of existing products and and inflexible modular systems which tackled bits, onto bits, onto bits which created a lot of redundant parts.

I have thought about pursuing something similar which would benefit a smaller company where you can be flexible and adapt to market conditions quickly without a ton of paperwork, on the other-hand there is often capital requirements to do this as well.

An MBA will compliment any design degree. The combination is sought after and is pretty rare to come across. I completed my executive mba @ Georgia State. The staff comment that I was one of the few creatives to come through their doors in recent memory. After completing my program, recruiters confirmed that the combination is highly desirable.

My career options have expanded and has allowed me to grow outside of just the design department of any company. I would do more research about how strategy is regarded in companies. Most all of those positions are heavy in number crunching and statistics. That’s not my cup of tea and I ended up pursuing an innovation management path after obtaining my eMBA.

If you have the opportunity to go for an MBA, I highly reccommend doing so.

I’m looking into an MBA also. You may want to check out this thread I started about various MBA programs that are semi related to design.

I am also looking into an MBA. I did get my Masters of Design - Advanced Strategies two years ago and it has also been helpful.

Hey Ross, thanks for posting that link. Businessweek also seems to have lots of useful articles concerning d+b schools. I will likely end up doing it at Rotman (U of Toronto). I like a lot that the dean Roger Martin is doing, and after having read his book “The Design of Business” it seems like it would be an ideal environment for what I am looking for.

I’m still curious about what types of roles designers find themselves in after graduating with an MBA and how popular this is becoming in the design community.

Thanks for the feedback guys!


I might be coming too late to the game here, but I’m an ID turned Interaction Designer going to Ross in Ann Arbor for my MBA this Fall. I’ve recently begun a website to chart the experience and I’ll offer helpful tips for the applications, calendar deadlines, essays, etc. while also trying to offer non-designers tips on how to work better with design teams – utilize creative capital, etc. I’d be more than happy to even share all of my essays ( all 50+ of them :slight_smile: ).

I applied to 11 top tier programs, interviewed at 9, accepted by 7 and at the end chose Ross over MIT for a myriad of reasons, but one of them being their support of design in the community and their Design+Business club.

You can check out the site if you want or give any feedback (please, I love feedback)


Any time someone dedicates several years to a goal, they definitely deserve respect. But I am not feeling the MBA these days. I would suggest checking out this (surprisingly heated) debate over at harvard business review. I just don’t know about being a generalist at management, when what we probably need are specialists with leadership (not the same as management) skills and a sense of responsibility to something besides the bottom line.

MBA, not a professional degree

MBA, yes it is…

Who cares if it is or not, the future, and actually past, is about ethics and responsibility as defined by non other than Ben Franklin

I’ve been following this debate, and I’m betting on the future looking like specialized leaders who understand what they are managing rather than generalist mba’s that are versed in facts and figures and business jargon.

You might have a point, but the MBA isn’t about the knowledge base as much as it is the network and the prestige. I had originally planned on going to a local school, but I was told that unless I went top tier, it was a bit of a waste. An MBA is more of a means to an end than the solution.

To answer your original question a little better:
I’ve been lucky enough to have some incredible successes at some very large companies, but most of those wins took an extreme amount of effort on my part and a bit of grass roots rallying. I’m looking into an MBA, so that as a designer I can approach business strategy from the Accounting, Operations, Marketing, and Management point of view, and when I present an idea, I can have a more well rounded presentation. I want to be looked at as the designer that “gets” business. Design is a bit myopic, but at the same time, we don’t strive to learn about the more broad aspects of business (Distribution models, regression analysis, even simple accounting principles); I cannot expect the other aspect of business to learn about how to utilize creative capital better if I’m not willing to learn their mentalities, approaches, concerns, etc…

I also truly believe in the evolution of the CDO or the VP of Design in the next 10 years. As markets and products become commoditized, it becomes not what you provide but //how// you provide it. And design is that experience of how. Additionally, brands are expanding into more facets of expression than ever before. It used to be that brands had a logo, a product, some POP, and a box. Now brands have websites, microsites, POP, twitter pages, facebook pages, software, packaging, logos, icons, sub brands, viral campaigns, and more. AND they have to manage all of these brand expressions in multiple countries and multiple cultures. Corralling the expression of the brand to provide one uniform, cohesive brand presence is going to be extremely difficult, and I think that it will require a higher level, strategic-minded designer to do it. There is not a better suited profession to accept the role, however, designers need to train themselves into this higher level, and at most companies, there is a stigma that the designer doesn’t understand business well enough to steer the ship. I hope to break that stereotype.

As for the fact, figures, and jargon; I’m curious about it and nervous about it too. I’ve met some people that were all talk, but I’ve met some truly brilliant MBA’s and I’m hoping that it will be a decent mix. Additionally, I’m excited to be with a a group of people that are highly motivates, passionate, and extremely diverse.

Not that I’m the right person to talk to, but do you have any questions I could help with?


I think (as someone who has looked into an mba) that while an MBA certainly provides utility (as in utility>0), it’s not worth it.

The question I ask myself is, “would I be better off spending ~60k @ Sloan or Rotman than I would be taking that money and trying to start something in an industry I know?”

For me, the answer is two-fold.

  1. I would be better off starting something, and even if I lose all my money and the company flops, I get some valuable lessons. (Isn’t that what Harvard’s case method is all about?) At most, I would take courses piecemeal as they become relevant.

  2. Irrelevant, I don;t have that kind of cash, kids are expensive.

Don’t get me wrong, a return to college sounds fun, but I just don’t see the ROI being there.

If this is how you look at MBAs, you really are just wasting your money. Who ever told you that doesn’t understand the differences in MBA programs that are offered from the various schools. You don’t want to go to a local/smaller program because of the quality of eduation you’ll recieve. If you’re really serious about the MBA route, you should be looking at the professor’s expertise, course cirriculum and cohort selection. You’ll find that many schools are actually quite good compared to those “big name” programs. If those three criteria are good, you’ll go much farther as an individual regardless of the overall program being general or design strategy etc.

Financial Times has a fairly well respected ranking system for you to review school performance.

Specialized MBAs are truly a hazardous path to take your career. Many employers want to know you have a solid understanding of business accumen. Having a specialized MBA narrows your capabilities significantly. What makes an MBA unique is that it compliments your existing skillset and knowledge. So of course, stacking someone with a BA and then an MBA is a total waste of time and money. But when you blend a creative with an MBA you get very different results.

Many MBA programs have current up to date course cirriculum to keep you relevant in the job market. It’s always in their best interest to have you well prepared because it improves their track record as well.

It’s like any education program, you’ll only get out of it what you put into it.

Your point seems moot in that you never went to school or started something on your own. Your recommendation would be more appropriate had you done one or the other with feedback on your decisions. It’s like recommending a Honda over a Ford, but never owning either. You’re also an ME, which is a different career path than ID, GD, or IxD, and your degree grants certain advantages that a BS in ID doesn’t.

If Boosted/Charles had left a comment that “my eMBA was useless and not worth it”, it would carry more weight.

I was simplifying. Carton’s comment seemed dismissive of MBA degrees and I was padding my answer.
Actually, I did months of research, I discussed the decision with current designers in MBA programs and those that graduated, and then I discussed the concept with multiple top tier graduates as well as lower tier graduates. I also discussed the idea with the VP’s of multiple companies and the two CEO’s of billion dollar companies. Within those groups of people were graduates, 1st years, and 2nd years from Harvard, Booth, MIT, Wharton and Stanford while also the University of Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Babson.

And, while I believe that Georgia State was the right choice for you, I had an opportunity to take 2 years off from work to complete a program. And of those that I spoke with, given that the only local school was the University of Kentucky, it was universally stated that I should try to attend a better program, attempting to get into the best that I could (that fell within my realm of interest – Entrepreneurship, Marketing, and Design) and then choose from there. Additionally, I asked the top tier graduates what they valued most about their MBA, and each stated the network and the school name, because each of these opened doors for them that otherwise would have been closed.

As for my experience: I applied to 11 schools, interviewed at 9, and was accepted by 7, but before that, I attended their classroom visits and participated in the school tours/information sessions. I hung out with the students (through friends), and on rare occasions, the professors. And while the educations may be similar in many programs, the “big” in the “big name” programs comes from something tangible:

  1. an enormous alumni network to interact with and reach out to
  2. the ability to pull incredibly gifted professors (some of the best I’ve ever heard/seen speak, including an Obama advisor)
  3. the ability to bring in top companies for recruiting
  4. the opportunity to create a network with some amazing, brilliant, motivated individuals on the same path
  5. a large endowment that permits the construction of some amazing learning environments
  6. an international reach that can put students in unique learning environments in places like Uganda, Bangladesh, and Thailand for months at a time in hands-on, learning exercises with real companies in real-life, international situations.
  7. there’s more, but my list is long enough.

In the end, your education at GSU was probably very similar to the education of someone that went to Yale (material wise), but the network and the prestige that comes with the degree is a huge differentiator. Arguably, if you were motivated enough, you could learn the material on your own; but it’s not about the material, it’s about the degree and the proof that you certifiably know the material. Otherwise, why bother with the eMBA or your Six Sigma Yellow belt?

And given that Gregorio up at the top is currently in Canada, I’m betting that, like me, his local options aren’t as good as some that are abroad, and if he’s going to spend $100k on school, I think that he should go to the best school possible that matches his criteria.

As for Carton’s comment. Eventually, there will be specializations, but for now, no.

btw, why GSU and not Georgia Tech?

I believe there are two different personalities that go for MBA’s. While I agree to your point that it’s primarily for validation, there are those out there that really do go after the material. I was at a point in my career when I was beginning to cross over different business units within my previous company. I was getting frustrated because I didn’t “understand” where they were coming from. Yes, you could sit there and read the material on your own. But that’s extremely inefficient and potentially a waste of your time if you can’t grasp the material. I know for a fact I couldn’t learn accounting/finance on my own.

Georgia Tech’s eMBA program is still fairly new with little to no alumni network. It was also heavily based on the more technical knowledge of an MBA cirriculum and also technology focused. There was little to no focus on managing/developing soft skills, international business, etc. GSU on the other hand offered that balance of material I was looking for. It also had a two week international residency built into the program which GT didn’t have.

The cohort composition @ GT was filled with engineers and IT specialists. GSU’s cohort was filled with senior management from various industries. I’ve learned that your cohort is as important as your professors and the program itself. In my cohort and had senior management from Bank of America, Coca Cola, GE, Cisco as well as many others.

I would have loved to attend Emory’s Goizuetta business school but it was well over $100k to attend there for just 16 months. I couldn’t justify the quality/cost to go there. I did talk to many individuals that hire MBA’s and I found that while the top schools may have a better program, the smaller programs are more selective about their cohort in order to raise the quality of their program overall. What the hiring managers indicated was similar quality candidates from various schools that matched that of top ranked schools. I imagine they were also a better “bargain” if you think about that aspect of it as well.

There is significant value to an MBA especially with the increasing competitive pressures of the economy today. It has opened doors for me that I just didn’t have without it. With that said, I agree that you should go for the best school you can get into. It’s also better to have that knowledge under your belt than none at all.

Hold up there, please don’t pull me into some campaign for a specialized mba. What I was talking about was going and getting an MFA or MDes or something like that. Get higher education in a field, not as a manager of anything/nothing. Jack of all managements, master of none comes to mind.

I really think we need highly educated designers with masters degrees in design and engineering that also have leadership qualities. I think we should be interested in the way architects are trained.

I think what we don’t need is business acumen the way we have it now.

Here’s another issue with this, many professionals see big problems with the way design education is conducted, but design educators find problems convincing professionals to get involved with design education. Maybe we need to deal with that in a way that incorporates some of the education you would receive in an MBA program. As a designer, you may want some business acumen, but do you want enough where you could go work for wells fargo managing mortgage brokers?

I met a few people from this school at a Seattle design conference, so it could be relevant here: