The Business of Design or the Design of Business

As I continue reading and exploring the worlds of Design Thinking, Design Science, Waste = Food, the History of the Corporation, Innovation, Strategic Planning, etc, etc… I really have to ask "Is the way we work and think, as designers, not a solution to many of the business problems we face today? And why only talk about business, can we not design better policy?

Are we reaching a point where Design moves beyond the skills and the processes for creating products, graphics, interfaces, buildings and we really start designing the cultures, belief systems and policies of the planet? As long as we prevent design from being used as a tool, as it was to build up Nazi Germany last century, I think we can.

In fact I think we have to as currently we (I mean all business) is at the same point as the crafts industry was in the middle 1800’s. We are on the cusp of a changing economic structure (and a societal one as well). What the Industrial Revolution gave us is now killing us (in more ways than one).

I think we need to look at what we do well. Develop it. Write about it. Study it. Exapnd it. Argue about it. Collaborate on it. Implement it. Find the good and the bad. Build the future.

Anyone with me :slight_smile:

“Why not wait for business to fix business? We are just designers.”

I along with many other designers are starting to go back and get our Masters Degrees. I am just finishing a Masters of Design and am applying for an MBA in Design and Innovation Management next. I see many other designers, ages 30-50, doing the same. We have been in business long enough to see the following:

  1. Business people that are classically trained are following the neo-classical economic models that ignore our place on the earth, human rights or even morality. I am not talking about a specific morality, just ANY moral responsibility to the human race, the planet, anything!!! These are people following 20th century scientific thought and that is not going to cut it in the 21st century.

  2. We have realized that you need a Masters Degree (especially MBA) to be taken seriously in the business arena. Want to move beyond designing stuff? Better get a Masters. Otherwise you are yelling at a wall.

  3. The word is getting around that designers who come out of a Masters Degree a very happy they did and they think in new ways now (hence my starting this post). In my opinion a Masters degree after a number of years of experience is better than a Masters degree right after a Bachelor degree, as far as what you can get out of it personally.

    So lets stop sitting around bitter about the situation and talking about how everyone is against us. Start taking control. Start showing they world how Design can bring us through the global changes required in this century.

So that people will not say “Tim what are you doing about it?” here is what I am doing.

  1. My final paper for my Masters Degree was about using Design Thinking to create a Discovery culture within corporations to develop their strategic plans (real strategic plans, not budgets). I hope to have this published later this year, but in the meantime I am developing a slide show explaining how to do this. I am presenting this slide show in Shenzhen, China next month to The First China (Shenzhen) World Industrial Design Forum. After that I will edit further and try to “take this on the road” to any design and business forums I can go to.

I also plan to write on how designers are the Masters of failure (we do it early, quickly and cheaply) and how our processes must move into other areas of corporations for making decisions about the future.

My long term plan is to move to positions such as Chief Innovation Officer and finally to CEO. In order to change the world, you have to have big goals :slight_smile:

Again, who is with me?

I couldn’t agree more. I am 25 and currently in B-School for the same reason. I am currently an ID manager in a large corporation and see first hand how corporations are run by Excel spreadsheets and bottom lines. The way business executives see the future is usually by hard numbers but when it comes to an organization that relies heavily ID, numbers are not always the best indicator. They would rather try to buy competitors out (“If you can’t beat them, buy them” mentality) rather than take the chances of investing in a new idea or design that could possibly reshape a company.

To be honest, I have learned alot so far with my MBA studies but the logic behind my decision to pursue an MBA was about 50% to gain knowledge and 50% to be able to put that I have an MBA on a resume. I agree, your chances increase greatly when someone looks at you as a business man with a designer mentailty because it is rare. The MBA is basically to get in the door. Then the designer experience/methodology will hopefully seperate us from the rest of the crowd.

Just my 2 cents. Anyone?

I completely agree–except I would replace “you must get a masters degree” with “you must continuously learn, experiment and re-invent yourself to remain relevant.”

Be careful not to dismiss all the designers out there in positions of influence that do not have MA’s. At my corporation I’m certainly not “talking to a wall” or feel that “everyone is against us.” Quite the opposite–our conversion rate is exceptionally high and demand always outstrips supply.

Personally I’d rather work-with and learn-from the best talent I can in the context of work: be it my staff, consultants, reading, or travels. To suggest that all of that lies within the four walls of a school is outdated in my opinion.


Glad to hear that conversation is going well at your company. I am not an elitist who thinks that business cannot have thoughts. On the contrary, I came from private industry and plan to soon go back to private industry because that is where the action is :slight_smile: No dismissing intended.

While I also agree that much of the information being given out in Masters classes may be out of date, I do think there is a specific thing that makes getting a Masters degree important:

You have to think through difficult ideas and write, in depth, about them. There are two important outcomes of this (one personal and one professional). They are:

  1. Personal - It is easy to have ideas of change but having to write a paper on them is like sketching the ideas out and looking at all sides in order to present them in a defendable way (ie.- It is easy to say a sentence or two about something. It is harder to write 30 pages about it). In our language it is like going from research to production.

  2. Professional - Design has an abysmal record of writing down our thoughts and deeds and presenting them to the public for further debate and evolution. We need this so that the thoughts spread beyond ourselves. This is beginning to change and I think Masters degrees are having a lot to do with it.

So I definitely don’t want to turn this into a class war in our profession. I just want people to really think about what is going on, not just in our profession, but planet-wide and how we can channel our talents to help. We have a right to do this, and I would say that we have an obligation to do this. When it comes down to it, our profession was founded on the industrial revolution. We are partly to blame. Now that the industrial revolution mindset must change, and it must, we either help design this new would or we fall by the wayside being seen as part of the problem instead of part of the solution. And remember what happens when we allow less creative people to try to solve world problems. They tend to use a big stick which in the past has always hurt someone.

To do this we have to start using phrases like planet health, morality (whichever type you choose), different business models, different profit models, different ways of thinking, waste = food model, the psychology of a corporation, externalities, etc… We have to confront the Neo-Classical economists and state Things must change, and they must change for the better for everyone, everywhere. And this change must be as good for those not born yet as it is for those alive today.

Or in the words of the movie Network: I am mad as hell and I am not taking it anymore! :slight_smile:

Great post, thanks. Recently I’ve been think about what kind of masters study I want to do and an MBA is one of the avenues I’m looking into. I’ve found several different kinds, can anyone tell me what some of the differences are between them? Does anyone have an opinion which would be more valuable to a designer?

Thanks in advance.


I completely agree with you on this and in fact I too have been advocating the same to my fellow students and colleagues. I have a 3+ years of exxperience designing products both for US and Indian market. What I have felt through my constant interactions with marketing teams is it virtually impossible to find design-sensitive, forget design-driven minds in the corporate that actually takes the final decision about how the product development process should move. To an extent they are just convcerned about deadlines. One of our clients, though a big name in the industry, wanted us to chop of the entire Research Phase saying ‘we will give you that data’. Insisting, persuading , convincing is one way out…but on a global scale look at the rest 90% of companies that cannot AFFORD to be design driven, yet they are belching out plastic products at an incomparable rate.

In one of the management ‘juries’ of one of my products, they took decision abt a concept, munching on thier sandwiches. I dont know what happens in so called design driven companies like APPLE, 3M, etc and the Automotive ones, but rest of them view Designers as 'set of ppl with ‘weirdo looks and mannerisms most of which they have self-woven to make themselves inaccessible|funky’. Design Thinking, per se, is not a grammatically true if we go by the dictionary of Corporate Decision Makers, and if it is, it connotes they should take more time in deciding which concept to go with. The role of the PROCESS never occurs to them.

We have to take the lead. I really feel instead of being Design-Artisans (picking up markers | sitting on Cintiq | getting into the mood | powered by Pink Floyd) lets take Design to its next step, where we as a community extend the ‘rubber side’ of the pencil and start clearing up the waste and the perceptive mess. The only way to do , according to me, is an MBA degree. It shuts a lot of mouths up…It makes ppl listen to you. It is unfortunate but true. And the way a designer would do it would make it very very different. The perspectives we can bring to table would be soooooooo very interesting.

I am taking GMAT and applying to B-schools this year, I dont want myself to ENJOY sketching products whose coming into the market I have no control over.
Yes, there will be Chief Innovation Officers and Chief Design Officers and lets make sure they are not MBA Marketing guys who just know how to sketch. We should be competing for these places if we have to seriously take the earth somewhere. Conferences on Sustainability and Floating Competitions wont wont. Welcome to the real world. It sucks but you gonna love it!!!

writing my first post here on Core77 and being in a slightly different design field (urban Design) than most of the others here i cant agree more on the topic of getting an MBA on top of your other design degrees.
After having worked the last 5 years predominantly in Shanghai, Dubai and Hong KOng i´ve reached a point where i´m looking to bridge more into design development and design leadership and think that the mba is really helpful for me to reach this point and getting the necessary additional knowledge…

The only point i´m still searching for is to choose the right school. Is it really important to go for a course with clear emphasis on Design / Design management or will a “normal” mba also do the trick ?!

Tim´s going for an mba in Design and Innovation Management, there are not many mba´s who going specifically in that direction…

What school would you prefer ? normal one or special design background ?!

greetings from HK,

I’m set to attend Pratt’s masters in design management program next fall. I’ve read a lot of mixed things, but most people that have gone through this program considered it worthwhile.

Just found Core77 today and I’m rather excited to have found an online venue for this type of conversation!

I’m an undergraduate student studying graphic design and will be the first designer at my school of 18,000+ undergrad to graduate with a business minor. I can say without a doubt in my mind that studying both design and business was one of the best decisions I’ve made so far.

These dual studies help me realize that design and commerce are both essentially about creating value and increasing the level of social surplus. I find that I’m much more hopeful about my future than my fellow classmates who are currently panicking at the idea of graduating. I believe I owe part of this clarity of mind and optimism to the realization that the design process can be applied to improve almost any experience.
For example: I’ve used the design process redefine how I set goals (example:

Tim, it sounds like you may have read “The Designful Company” by Marty Neumeier, where he explains how we can use design thinking to solve “wicked” business problems. Marty makes some very valid points in this regard but the power of design goes way beyond solving business problems.

As James Vitore said “Design is a big club with spikes… and I want to wield it.” The power of design is endless, all we have to do is use it to increase the number of positive experiences we all have. We really can design a better world!

P.s. Tim: Where is there an MBA in Design and Innovation Management by the way? That sounds like a very interesting program.

@Timf - would be great to see your presentation or hear outcome if your work

I’m coming from the opposite direction. I’ve been in the business world, finishing my MBA now and have an emerging interest in design. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the intersection of business, design, people and innovation. What is the design approach and design thinking and how can you apply it to solve problems in business? Brainstorming, prototyping, user (human centered) design are just a few that come to mind.

Where can I learn more? Where has this been applied? David Kelley /IDEO certainly seems to be one evangelist of this approach. I want more!