New Paths to Design Management

February 4, 2014 · by Bob Fisher

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Companies that include Target and Apple have helped the buying public more aware of and hungry for good design. Their success, combined with the efforts of firms such as IDEO, has raised awareness within the business community of the economic value of design as well as the methods it offers for solving wicked problems.

Though after 10 years of use the term “design thinking” may smack of a buzz phrase, the concepts behind it endure.

The increasing number of graduate programs that incorporate business and design testify to the business community’s investment in design thinking. The trend began with the 2005 founding of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (known as the d.school), which was followed the next year by the IIT Institute of Design and Stuart School of Business joint Master of Design/MBA and in 2008 by the Design Strategy MBA at the California College of the Arts.

Since that time many more programs have been developed — some as recently as September 2013:

CalTech and Art Center College of Design have taken the additional step of establishing the “Design Accelerator,” an incubator for design-based startups. The service launched its first two companies in summer 2013.

The effect of this change will show itself in where design managers come from and how they are trained. Traditionally, those in corporations and firms who manage the development and application of design were trained as practitioners and learned business either on the job, through supplemental training, or both. Now business schools are offering an alternative path that combines their core strengths with the type of thinking that previously distinguished design practitioners and education programs.

As graduates of these programs gain additional experience, design and architecture firms may find that they are best served by senior leaders that have a business savvy but non-traditional background.

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