A curriculum for business design

May 28, 2009 — 15 Comments

IDEO colleague Ryan Jacoby has recently started a great blog about business design at do_matic. His post on a 2012 curriculum for a degree in business design is genius. Judging from the early response there seem to be plenty of people like me who would love to sign up. This looks like the education I wish I had had as a designer. The only problem is I think I would have needed my seven years in art school to accumulate some of the skills necessary to consider applying to Ryan’s program.

The thorny issue is how do design thinkers get the breadth and depth of education they need to tackle the systemic problems that face us?

Do we start with depth, a more traditional undergraduate degree in industrial design or engineering let’s say, and then follow it with the breadth in the form of Ryan’s Masters in Business Design? Or maybe it needs to be the other way around. A great liberal arts degree with business design as a major followed by the depth building experience of a more traditional design masters. I suspect that neither of these proves to be the ideal recipe and that we need many more varied paths to accumulate knowledge and experience.

Tim Brown


15 responses to A curriculum for business design

  1. I think the word “design” is becoming too much of a “every problem is a nail to the hammer” conundrum. What I would like to see is the following:

    Business Innovation
    Business Leadership
    Business Design
    Business Engineering
    Business Skill
    Business Training
    Business Education
    Business Networking
    Business Products
    Business Services
    Business Marketing
    Business Transactions

    Let’s instill the diversity of business and design as part of the solution, not the only solution.

  2. I’d like to revisit and revise my comment:

    I think the word “design” is becoming too much of a “to a hammer, every problem is a nail” conundrum. Every problem is not a design problem. Business is very diverse. What I would like to see is the following curriculum:

    Business Science Inductive (Problems and Visions)
    Business Science Deductive (Entrepreneurship and Leadership)
    Business Design (Climates and Trends)
    Business Engineering (Location and Movement)
    Business Skill (Innovation and Professionalism)
    Business Training (Imitation and Apprenticeship)
    Business Education (Memorization and Theory)
    Business Networking (Fraternity and Sorority)
    Business Products (Culturing and Manufacturing)
    Business Services (Sharing and Caring)
    Business Marketing (Valuing and Pricing)
    Business Transactions (Closing and Accounting)

    Design plays a part in solving every problem, but not every part of a problem is a design problem.

    Let’s instill the diversity of business with design as part of the solution, not the only solution.

  3. I believe every category you just defined would be essential to a Business Design degree.I have watched designers flounder in the business world because
    they have not understood the basics of business when entering
    the visual design market place.These economic times as well as the price of entry into the marketplace demand a solid grounding in business basics for
    the thousands of students who enter the business world as “Designers”.

  4. While I completely agree that there is a major gap between the professional business of design and design education, I can’t help but, as a designer who loves the art of design and has moved onto the design strategy arena, be concerned as to the future of design itself. Understanding that there is much more to design than just its craft, most of the talk around the business of design comes from people who have never attended design school so they have little understanding of the process designers go through to do what they do. I was asked by a strategist once “How do you do it? How do you go from all this “strategy” to being able to come up with something that is exactly what we want or better?” After all is said and done and we have all the information and good thinking and all that good stuff, the one thing we have is talent, simple as that. That was my answer.

    So my concern is not so much about business design, that can be learned, but how do we prepare those with immense talent and passion for the craft to be better “thinkers” as designers?

  5. The suggestions here are wonderful but we are missing a major point if we do not acknowledge the fact that businesses are social systems. Design Thinking needs to be incorporated into the solutions we architect and build.

    However, what we are designing are social systems and living organizations which come together with the idea of serving a specific purpose. We know how to design artefacts, we now need to bring that knowledge into the design of living systems.

    There are two other pieces missing, the notion of Systems Thinking and Architecture.

    Once we acknowledge the social living systems aspect of business, a lot of things such as aspirations and values will fall into place, culture, narrative and history will fall into place and so on.


  6. @Sudhir, yes, that is what I am discovering. I agree with Tim on the emphasis of design, because it is a crucial part of a healthy functioning system, however over emphasis denies the balance of the rest of the parts of the system. That balance is what @jeanine is talking about in talented people. They are renaissance minds able to think across disciplines.

    It is a fallacy to claim that we cannot know everything there is to know. The truth is we cannot be completely informed of everything there is to inform.

    Prediction – Radiation
    Knowledge – Heat
    Information – Durations
    Reports – Distances
    Records – Masses
    Values – Currents
    Transactions – Density

    This is a correlation between the types of “data” and the System International Units of Measure. There are only seven fundamental measures. It is time to look at the basics and correlate to them. Let nature dictate our course and flow with it. Humanity is a product of nature and the products of humanity are all products of nature. Oil Rigs, Aircraft, Nuclear Reactors, Agriculture, Manufacturing, Cities are all incredible products of nature. It’s not what is good or evil, it is what is healthy and unhealthy.

  7. Such an interesting topic. Right, we designers not always are good in doing bussines… we need more diverse preparation and openess to understand the whole process, we need to open and understand that maybe we are not designing products and services, but concepts, a more holistic point of view…

    I work for Universidad Panamericana in Aguascalientes, México. We have a new program on Innovation and Design Engineering and focus on the “business part of the equation”. Not easy, we have to find teachers from the Industrial Design field and they find difficult to match different disciplines (I am a designer myself).

    Anyway, we think that the more influence we have from other academies of the campus the more we will reach the goal to have a professional to assist innovation in the whole process. An important initiative we are pushing is a site where design and entrepeneuralship gathers, to make people see that the match is really posible. The site is http://www.sinergocios.info, in english would be something like “business sinergy” and avoids the traditional “design site” style to become more “business innovation” style.

    Sorry, it is in spanish…

  8. That’s exactly what I’m saying Grant and really we are all talking about the same thing. Luis, I think what you are doing in crucial in preparing designers for the 21 century; they should be able to not only design the final artifacts but think in terms of systems, big picture/small picture.

  9. Thanks Jeanine, we are working on that… and yes, developing concepts, experiences, systems is the way to go. The physical products are only a part of something bigger.

    I think companies like IDEO are finding the path to follow.

    By the way, today in the morning I heard in the news that somebody was detecting that economy problems in the US are the result of a reduction in innovation in the last decade. It seems that the media is in certain way recognizing the importance of innovation in all fields.

  10. Tim:

    Ryan’s fresh idea for a Business Design academic discipline reminds me of one effort underway at IBM, where I work: the creation of a new field called Service Science (or more formally, SSME: “Service Science, Management & Engineering), which would be something of a hybrid of traditional business and computer science studies, and the variety of services that increasingly define many aspects of both economics and technology.

    I could see Business Design (especially Business Model and Business Process design) as key elements.

    In fact they may already be part of the curricula under development across many of the universities that IBM is collaborating with on SSME.

  11. Take a look at the Masters in Healthcare Innovation http://nursing.asu.edu/mhi
    It attempts to take design thinking as well as leadership principals and apply them to the healthcare market. Its a stepping stone that moves away from the traditional MBA to a more open leadership role rather than a management role. I graduated from it and now i am working on the PhD in healthcare Innovation. IDEO, and others are our role models for changing healthcare.

  12. As a current undergraduate student studying interior design I find this debate interesting and overwhelmingly relevant. I have been introduced to the larger, all encompassing ideas of Design Thinking, Innovation, Invention, & Continuous Improvement, Total Design, etc. in the core of my program and in the teaching methods that followed suit as well.

    I sense that this idea of the application of ‘Total Design’ in all aspects of life has not been completely realized and therefore in the education system today there is no degree, rather it is something that designers with a wider scope and bigger vision will explore deeper (i.e. more than just designing interiors). But, only after the introduction sets in and when interest and inspiration is realized.

    It would be cool to see a separate degree branch out. For my generation, a generation that is named to solve the current issues of the world, it would be interesting to see these helpers be educated on how to do so.

  13. I think this falls into the category of building t-shaped people. I just finished a dual masters in business and public administration and my options to learn design thinking work were *woefully* limited. The traditional MBA is not set up for building depth in a discipline, which is really a missed opportunity to build bridges between the two. I’d love to go back for another concentration in design thinking processes, but where can I do it without another 2 years of intensive (and expensive!) study. Surely there is a way. Great post.

  14. I wish this curriculum existed. It’s the type of knowledge and challenges that would get me up to par to be an entrepreneur – without failing at some of the basics.

  15. sally hollis-mcleod December 29, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    It seems to me that the excitement in design education is shifting to the innovative programmes associated with business or with fashion (which is spearheading new ideas associated with sustainability and consumerism etc). I might even add spatial to that mix.
    some traditional design programmes here (NZ) have become besotted with the idea that ‘innovative’ ideas are those which arise from art, and have associated themselves with that form of education—which is very model-based, which follows fads (installation), which insists that design is just another visual art form; and which needs never move beyond the subjective. This leads to the weakest thinking I have ever encountered; the least able to engage with dialogue; the most isolationist; the weakest work; the most hyperbole… and, sadly, the most distressed students come graduation.
    anyone feel like endowing a small but effective design school in new zealand?

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