What role does a MBA play in the design industry?

Hello all~

What roles fit somebody with a background in ID and an MBA?

Account Management?
Brand Management?
Project Management?

…but there are so many other areas, such as - research, strategy, marketing, business development, etc…

Can anyone provide their personal experience with these roles and the backgrounds of those who filled them?


…intern and i could but i promised my mother never to use those words ever again.

Insults aside, some less condescending advice would prove much more valuable to all viewers.

I don’t think that mrd’s comment is intended as an insult so much as a statement of experience. I’ve also had the experience of working with IDers who - failing as designers - have gone on to get an MBA… only to then try to provide design direction from that position.

I’m not saying all IDers with MBA’s are like that, but I can see where some people providing their own experience (which is requested in the opening post) would have nothing good to say about their encounters.

Sadly, I’d have to say the same thing: I’ve not come across IDers with MBA’s who I consider good designers and in their management roles have been more a detriment to a project than a benefit. It’s a rare breed of individual who is both a good designer and good business person. And increasingly common to find designers who jumped into MBA programs only to move up the ladder because they were stuck in lower-tier positions.

to csven & mrd:

I do understand both of your statements…I did interpret mrd’s comment as a personal attack against my ability because I didn’t feel that it was provoked. It seems that many designers have a lot of animosity towards those they do not see as equal. However, if these commentators are such great designers, then why do they have trouble dealing with other personalities? Aren’t they supposed to be great problem solvers & conflict negotiators?

There are conflicts that exist between designers and managers, but the goal for this post is not to debate one’s ability to provide design direction. The purpose is to discuss what types of people are in design management positions and what are their backgrounds.

That said, I am hoping that somebody can share their insight as to who fills these positions and what their titles are from their unique perspective. Career paths in the design industry are less formal than those in corporations are, and because of that there is a lot of ambiguity that surrounds what qualities are needed or what personalities are best suited for this line of work.

Why do you think these managers are not good?
What in their background and experience contributes to poor management techniques?
What qualities make for good managers?

I don’t recall seeing anything about your “ability” in the first post.

From my experience with both clients in house design teams as well as direct contact in most cases (NOT A PERSONAL ATTACK) people who have little design experience then opt for a higher level Marketing or Business degree generally do more harm to the development cycle than good. For the sole reason that they feel that their degree superseded years of product development experience. Most have no clue as to the development process or the manufacturing process.

This is were the animosity mentioned above comes from. Also as a designer…especially a design manager you must have thick skin and take no comment as a personal attack…or your career will be a very short one.

No degree can make a good manager, the skills and personality are part of a persons being, a degree can only optimize these traits.

As for background…experience in the design industry has no substitute. To manage the process you need to know how the process works, where the traffic jams always occur, and how to quickly divert traffic to keep things moving.

I have seen many design/marketing managers and the most successful have always worked there way through the trenches. Some have advanced degrees, but far more do not.

^^^^ ditto ^^^^

Thank you ML,

Your comments were clear and I did not interpret them as a personal attack. I suppose that in my career path I relocated out of a design hub only to seek refuge in graduate school to kickstart my career again. Unfortunately, an MBA seems to create a difficult position for someone with the lack of formal experience. If I had instead spent greater amounts of time working on my portfolio and sketching then my chances to get an entry-level or mid-level position would be greater.

Many people I have spoken to over the past two years have mixed feelings over the decision to get a MBA - some good and some bad…but I believe you said it best

What are the other roles in a firm where an MBA is valuable regardless of the background - strategy, business development, research, etc…? As for required experience, what have you seen is the people’s backgrounds in these roles?

you have to take into consideration that an mba can only help you find the path towards a business model but it can’t provide you with tools for processes that go beyond a simple model.

the reason is that nowadays the whole business environment is broken down to so many individually specialized parts that an mba can’t practically cover.

For my sins I have an MBA (design management)

  • I have found that it only has helped inform my thoughts about design and where it sits in relation to other disciplines.
    More education can never be a bad thing, and by broadening your views, it can help you to be understood by people who might think that all you do is draw pretty pictures otherwise.

I don’t believe anyone is saying getting an MBA is a bad thing. It’s not the degree it’s how, whether, and under what circumstances the knowledge and the position are used.

I for one think an MBA is a fantastic idea. No one retires as an IDer (meaning literally working on the boards until retirement), and I don’t plan on doing it either. One must always look forward to the next step; whether it be design managment, teaching, starting a new company etc. I see three basic strategies:

  1. Do nothing, and let you experience in ID take you as far as possible
  2. Get a masters or PhD in ID (good for teaching, or design direction), But really, after working 10 years, how much will you learn? I see this as a necessary step to move into teaching only. I seriously doubt it will make a seasoned designer better…but i digress.
  3. Get an MBA and get into program managment, design managment, start a new business, entrepreneuring etc.

My opinion is that an MBA opens a LOT of doors for you (more than an MID or PhD ID). Depending on what you want to go into, it could be a great choice. If every designer eventually gets out of the literal act of designing, and gets into directing, or managing, or teaching I can’t think of a situation where it is a BAD idea to have an MBA to go along with your skillset. (assuming you were going into managment anyways. I do agree that a poor or inexperienced designer with an MBA is a dangerous combination)

Good points NA, I think it would be great for a fully seasoned, salty designer, but for someone with little to know experience in being a professional designer… not sure.

First off, cisabella is my older brother, so I know more about the individual than anyone else on the board. I am a recent graduate from RIT industrial design program looking for my first true career job. I am glad to see that as the posting continued more people offered “constructive information” instead of stregthening my fear of the increase of arrogance in our field. We are taught to take the untraditional route to reach goals, its a core matra of what we are all about. After reading countless forums on similar subjects I think this “design arrogance” is one of the biggest roadblocks of the future. So many of my fellow classmates claimed that “design can save the world!” They would attempt tackling such issues as energy or transportation problems. The big problem was they assumed to know too much about the topic without the fundementals. The analogy I use is “Their trying to learn calculus without knowing basic arithmatic”. Basically where this post is going, is I am curious about the arrogance generated within the industry. Is it too much, or am I coming from a special environment with arrogant designers?

An MBA is a credential that will get you in the door for more jobs and allow you to pursue more career avenues that may or may not have any design activities associated with them.

As another poster implied- the MBA is a basic degree and much of it is not directly transferrable training to the specific job you may hope to get from the degree.

That said, as a designer with MBA credential can make you be taken more seriously by C-level follks at your company, as well as your clients. The situation where I believe it would be most valuable is for someone in the design arena who already knows the business side reasonably well and can relate their experiences to the content they will be taught in MBA school. Then use the tools they learn in b-school and the credential to move up, or forward . . . or backward depending on your expereince once you get to where you thought you wanted to be. :unamused:

What you may be describing as arrogance, or calculus without arithmetic, can also be described as two kinds of intelligences, or two kinds of knowledge.

What an MBA will not teach is the essentials of the designer’s job and passion, which are how to create form and make it look and work well. The closest a pure MBA approach can get to this is a survey, a lowest common denominator, something derived rather than inspired.

What MBAs have shown in my experiences is that it is better to take two months, much money, and focus groups to reassure themselves about a bland design direction…instead of intuitively ‘knowing’ when something is right, looks right, will be a success in the marketplace.

I’m all for education and 360degree knowledge of the product development cycle, including what may be contained in a MBA curriculum. I just don’t think it will make one a better ‘designer’ - just a better employee and more valuable to one’s company.

So yes, an MBA is a credential that will get you in the door for more jobs… said jobs will less likely be doing design. Unless you are the kind of person who can magically switch their brains from left to right hemisperes and back again, once you go through with the MBA indoctrination the pure design skills will be lost in the static.

hey there,

You will go far with an MBA plus u had backgrd with ID. Always treat it as an advantage above the rest. Although you might not return to the ID industry, but, with your previous knowledge in ID + now in MBA, other industries might value you more, because of your determination to cross over the other side, expanding your boundaries of ID.

Take pride in what you have now.

It is a priviledge that you have an MBA that others dun. Positive attitude dude.


2 Cents better than 50.


Considering I was the second to post and effectively dismissed by your older brother, I take it you also took issue with my comment. I’d very much like to know where in my post where I offered non-“constructive information”. I am, of course, assuming that sharing personal experience is inherently constructive.

For your reference:

I’m also curious how someone who is a recent graduate came to the conclusion that there is an “increase of arrogance in our field”. I’ve actually noticed the reverse.


to clarify my arrogance comment from before, it is more of a question and observation about how things seem to operate from the outside. I felt that most of my fellow students were too arrogant and unskilled about some of their lofty claims they would make about their projects. I am curious about how things work in a professional environment, is this true?? Didn’t mean to offend anyone with my comments, just like to see this discussion or “dialouge” continue