A Model for Designs on Enterprise, Entrepreneurship, and Design Thinking

In November of 2014, I was asked by Massey University, College of Creative Arts, Wellington New Zealand to present “the state of design education” in respect to enterprise, innovation, and design thinking from my perspective as a design educator (since 1998) and practicing designer (since 1988) working in the United States. Here is that essay:

There is great value and opportunity for the creation, development, and delivery of a course of study dedicated to enterprise, innovation, and design thinking (EIDT). Such a program would differentiate from any current design education model. Around the globe design education curriculum — at the university level — is still rooted in twentieth-century notions such as reactionary creative/visual problem solving, design of artifacts in the context of the traditional fee-for-service, theoretical and expressive design principles, and more recently, design for good or social change. Most undergraduate and graduate programs teaching design around the globe are grounded in what I call the “Big Four” — form, color, type, and technique — with little exception. Some programs have a fifth component in the mix — concept. Beyond this, very little has changed in design education in the last 50-years except for the adoption of technology and a minimal effort to embrace interactive and systems thinking. This claim is supported by an in depth analysis of design curriculum currently available at our top universities, which clearly shows design curriculum in 2016 is still geared towards the Big Four.

This is understandable, both historically and in the short term the communication design discipline remains reliant on undergraduates entering the field prepared to design products: physical objects, printed materials, and increasingly Web-based and mobile platforms as a part of cohesive systems (e.g., branding systems). These are often referred to as “basic skills” for visual problem solving using basic fundamentals of form, color, texture, pattern, and typography. It is only after a few years of experience within the design profession that most designers gain exposure to basic business principles, data-driven research, strategic thinking/planning, customer journeys, empathy and problem framing. Designers who possess these “experience” skills and knowledge are increasingly valued with the expanded role that communication design plays in business strategy and innovation. Ultimately, it is this combination of competencies that become the survival skills necessary for a sustainable design career.

With a good knowledge of the current state of undergraduate design education, it is reasonable to conclude that any successful program focused on EIDT would most likely occur at the upper levels of a baccalaureate degree (senior year) or the postgraduate level. Why? Because it is at the postgraduate level that students and faculty share the experience and abilities to understand and develop strategy and innovation, especially in an environment of interdisciplinary collaboration. With the proven success of graduate programs like the Stanford d.School and the MIT Media Lab in the United States and the Design Council in the United Kingdom, the time has come for a school that integrates design, visualization, iterative approaches, and non-linear thinking while fostering enterprise well beyond artifact creation and design manifestos.

Timing is everything. The design community, professional design organizations, and design education institutions have been slow to embrace or even recognize the value of design thinking and design innovation integration in the context of enterprise. Meanwhile, news articles chronicling venture capitalist and private equity firms that have made substantial investments in purchasing design firms or forming strategic partnerships with creative talents emerge weekly. The goal of these firms is to leverage design as a defined strategy for competitive advantage. What the investment community and innovative corporations have been quick to realize is that now design and the integration of design thinking can give companies and start-up enterprises a tangibly enhanced value when used effectively. In this role designers are an integral component in the success of enterprise and will be more valued in the global market.

If a university, design school, or private interest (i.e., for profit educator) was to rapidly adopt and implement this model they would be first-to-market with graduates that will be absorbed by a ready-to-hire corporate marketplace. In this model the school could also serve as a hive for innovation where students and faculty from the design disciplines welcome engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, science, and education congregate to take on society’s most challenging problems and create disruptive innovation on a global scale.

The pillars of this model would be:
• Foster innovation for the betterment of humanity and the environment;
• Interdisciplinary collaborative approaches;
• Transformative design learning environment;
• Develop approaches for enterprise-based disruptive innovation;
• Problem-framing for the most complex challenges; and
• Forge relations with innovative organizations and corporations
Continuing educational initiatives
• Design-led enterprise workshops (1-day workshops) for community and local corporate leaders;
• Design-led enterprise camp (multi-day) intensive instruction geared towards organizations and corporations outside the university;
• Design-led enterprise competitions with graduate students and graduate students to compete for start-up capital to fund enterprise related research in the areas of technology, culture, sustain-ability, and education; 
• Design-led enterprise conference hosted annually by the University and sponsored by 
 corporations dedicated to design-led innovation (e.g., IBM, 3M, Honeywell, IDEO, Frog).

In the a year-and-half since I responded with this essay to Massey University, the demand for talent with an understanding of enterprise, innovation, design thinking has exploded. How many more articles, Design Value Indexes, and other respected market indicators does the design discipline need before we will embrace the value and market need for a course of study dedicated to enterprise, innovation, design thinking? Here we are in early 2016 and there is still little in the way of curriculum or programs (i.e., Universities, schools, organizational support) available to those designers who see the value in the expanded role of our discipline. I see an opportunity!