Design programs are shaping a new generation of creative managers
On the campus of the University of Cincinnati, Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) employees are brainstorming with design students to create a fictional green-leaning family of three that lives in an energy-efficient solar-powered home. "We imagined a prototypical family that might live in a house like this and want to live sustainably," says Bob Schwartz, associate director at P&G's Global Design Organization. "What products might support that lifestyle 24/7?"
P&G already employs lots of innovative minds. So why is its global design unit looking to a troop of University of Cincinnati students for ideas? "Students bring naive innovation and alien eyes," says Schwartz. "They can inspire in a fashion that is more difficult to do in big companies. That's probably why a lot of big companies engage in relationships with design schools."
The Second Annual BusinessWeek survey of the best design schools highlights the growing role they play in supplying creative managers to corporate and nonprofit organizations. Our list includes joint programs among business, engineering, and design schools as well as revamped curricula within traditional design programs. The driving forces of innovation and globalization are pushing companies to revamp their managerial ranks and hire people with new skills. Surprised by the rise of consumer power, companies are seeking people who can connect with customer cultures online and overseas. And in an era of constant change, they want people who are comfortable with complexity and uncertainty. Schools that teach design thinking, with its emphasis on maximizing possibilities rather than managing for efficiency, are in high demand.
Once again, BusinessWeek turned to a panel of innovation consultants, design academics, and corporate executives to select programs that have curricula they respect and whose graduates they hire. Then we conducted interviews with professors, students, and alumni to narrow down their recommendations to a list of the top global 60. Finally, in making our choices, we asked them to look for programs that combined design with business, engineering, or marketing, and we treated this mixture as essential to their teaching.
Who made the cut? Programs that enabled students to engage with the real world through sponsored projects and internships; that were tuned in to contemporary business issues, such as sustainability; and those whose graduates have proven themselves to be creative designers, strategists, and leaders.
Many schools are beginning to go global. To share resources, ideas, best practices, and academic talent, European, American, and Asian universities are setting up joint programs. Among the schools on our list, many are offering dual degrees from two or more programs or schools.
These programs zero in on one of business' major problems—the difficulty managers and creative types have working together. Innovation may now be as important as efficiency, yet people responsible for each function rarely understand one another and work poorly together on teams.
One obvious solution is to throw them together and teach them design thinking jointly. The Royal College of Art, for example, has a new program with the Tanaka Business School and the Imperial College London engineering school. Carnegie Mellon University puts design, engineering, and business students into teams to work on projects. And the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management pairs MBAs with design students in product development classes.
Another program that focuses on collaboration is Adcenter, the Virginia Commonwealth University graduate advertising program run by Richard Boyko. In his 30-year career at ad shops Ogilvy & Mather, Leo Burnett Worldwide, and TBWA\Chiat\Day, Boyko found that "advertising creatives and account managers never spoke to one another." He says that "the businesspeople are the ones who pay the checks, but they aren't trained to look at creative content." Worst of all, "they aren't trained to collaborate, to rub elbows with those unlike themselves."
At Virginia Commonwealth, Boyko launched a new master's degree in creative brand management, which is an alternative MBA for those interested in careers as chief marketing officers or advertising account managers.
Sometimes managers need to get two kinds of training—technical and design—from two institutions to do their jobs. In France, Eloi Baudoux was on the fast track in 1998, when as a student in Paris' prestigious engineering school Ecole des Mines, he took a summer internship at Renault (RENA.PA). But once inside the automotive giant, Baudoux found that his science background wasn't enough. "I realized that engineering activities would not allow me to get as close to the product, to the human and customer processes, as I needed to be." In fact, says Baudoux, "I found I could not be taken seriously within Renault without a design background."
Luckily, Ecole des Mines had a partnership with Strate Collège, a design academy in a Paris suburb (and a new addition to our list). When Baudoux finished his formal engineering training in 1999, he was able to move directly into a two-year Master's program in design.
Baudoux kept in touch with Renault, and in 2001 he met with a manager who was interested in recruiting a team to craft a vision for the company's research and development arm. Baudoux, two other design-engineers, and a sociologist were hired. His role at Renault is to offer strategic ideas for both designers and engineers. He explains to car designers how new technologies will affect the user experience. He also translates what experiences customers want to engineers, in order to help them build better cars.
"Sustainability" is on the lips of nearly all chief executives as they attempt to go carbon neutral in making and distributing their products and services. That means revamping materials, manufacturing, distribution, and their energy use.
True, there appears to be a lot of "greenwashing" going on, with companies buying dubious carbon emission offset credits to establish credentials that allow companies to call themselves green while flying executives on private jets to conferences and paying people not to chop down trees.
Yet companies are feeling real pressure from Wall Street to reduce environmental liabilities, from European customers demanding planet-friendly products and from younger new hires who take green issues seriously. Increasingly, CEOs themselves see sustainability as fitting well with strategies for market expansion and growth. So they are racing about looking for designers, managers, and strategists who are knowledgeable about building sustainable products and implementing processes.
"Companies are turning to design schools and programs for this kind of talent. The business-design degree program at the Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design offers a class on sustainable design. This executive education program focuses on getting managers talking about the environment "in the early phases and in the corner office," says Jean-Paul Kusz, a business school professor teaching in the IIT design program."
Next spring, Northwestern University's Kellogg Business School's program in social enterprise is adding a class on sustainable manufacturing, bringing engineers and business students together to cooperate on product development with sustainability in mind. "It's top-down driven; CEOs are into it, so we believe we have to teach it to the students," says professor Walter Herbst.
European design schools have long been leaders in sustainability because of government regulations, consumer demands, and market opportunities. Design school KaosPilot International takes a hands-on approach to designing in a global context. Not only does the school have headquarters in four Scandinavian countries, but students spend about half their degree traveling the world on team projects called Outposts, where they work on designs for businesses and nonprofits in the local community. On their Outpost in Dublin, students plan to "green" the city of Dublin with roof gardens that would absorb CO2.
Whether it's in Cincinnati or Rio de Janeiro, some of the best ideas often come from students. At the Design Incubator at Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial in Rio, students devised a way to turn resin from discarded palm trees, which are harvested for their heart of palm fruits, into a material that is firm enough to be used as a replacement for wood. The class project has led to new products, from skateboards to furniture, while helping to recycle waste. And last spring, Parsons The New School for Design senior Rishi Desai organized a university-wide competition of sustainable design projects. In his senior thesis, Desai is turning insights from the competition into models for sustainable business.
Attracting top-of-class talent is getting more competitive, and some companies are already offering sweeteners. Just as they have long been willing to underwrite MBAs for executives, they are now supporting students in design programs. At Stanford University's design school, where MBAs and engineers increasingly collaborate, consultants and companies line up for the best students.
So when Stanford MBA student Sarah Stein Greenberg asked to defer a job offer at business consultant Monitor Group to continue her Stanford D-school project designing irrigation schemes for rural farmers in Southeast Asia, the consulting firm agreed. They even let Greenberg spend another year at the D-school as a teaching fellow. She will start her job as a business consultant with Monitor this fall.
Bansi Nagji, chief executive of Monitor Innovation, says Greenberg's experience will make her a stronger asset. "[It] was compelling to us as we were starting to see the world in similar ways," says Nagji. Greenberg says she has learned "why some organizations can innovate and others can't." Students who can answer that question are just the talent that companies want.