Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Design Education for Future Practice

Carlos Montana
Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation
21 min readMay 12, 2020



Dr. Carlos Montana-Hoyos, Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation

Camilo Potocnjak-Oxman, Australian National University

Dr. Renata Lemos Morais, Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation


Design Practice, Design Education, Strategic Design, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, STEAM


In many countries, innovation is usually linked to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths), while design is still perceived as having cosmetic or maker roles, rather than tactic and strategic ones. However, design disciplines have dematerialised, evolving from merely the conception of things (be it a print magazine, a piece of furniture, or a building) to broader creative problem solving, management and strategic approaches to achieve predetermined goals.

How can design education better prepare students to play value-creating roles in future practices? This paper discusses strategy, entrepreneurship and innovation in design education, using examples of educational projects initiated by the authors. These projects range from: strategic design of systems, services and user-experiences to projects that enhance entrepreneurial skills and the intervention of designers — educating management students. The paper offers ideas for design educators and exemplifies increasing values in design education.

This is an edited and updated version of previously published peer-reviewed work.**

Introduction: Innovation and STEM

Von Stamm (2008,1) proposes that creativity, or the generation of new ideas is only a starting point in the design process, and innovation is precisely the application or ‘implementation’ of these new ideas to products or services. Innovation is a shared topic in national policies in many countries around the world, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Australia. The UAE’s fast development has been driven by the government, with innovation as a high priority in the agenda with initiatives such as: the UAE National Strategy for advanced Innovation (NSAI), which was launched in 2014 and UAE innovates to promote innovation ecosystems as pillars in a knowledge-based economy (Government of the UAE, 2014). 2015 was the year of Innovation in the UAE, and the year when Australia also launched its National Innovation and Science Agenda (Department of Industry, 2015), which stated that ‘in the next decade an estimated 75 per cent of jobs in the fastest-growing industries will need skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).’

This poses the question: where does ‘design’ appear in these national innovation agendas? Interestingly, the UAE’s National Strategy for Advanced Innovation has one of its three main pillars ‘human-centric purposes’, which, while not explicit, can be related to design in its human-centredness. However, anecdotally, a quick search for the word ‘design’ in the NISA website when it was launched in 2015 only retrieved results related to: policy design, programme design, medical drug design, email design, and others, none of which were related to any of the creative disciplines of design. In 2020, this has changed to include: human-centred design, and concept design.

Even though design is not explicitly part of the global discourse on innovation practices, the discipline is implicitly present in what are emerging as the most desirable skills for 21st Century professionals: creativity, problem-solving, and the ability to act in uncertainty (Petrone, 2019; World Economic Forum, 2016). Additionally, changes in the nature of the workforce suggest that an entrepreneurial mindset will be a requirement for the next generation of graduates. The skills and competencies described as comprising this entrepreneurial mindset bear a close relation to those required for the design process: creativity, future orientation, comfort with risk, flexibility, adaptability, and collaboration (Ernst & Young, 2018).

As design educators, we are well suited to do something about this! We can, through our work with students, demonstrate to governments, industry and other stakeholders that design is important, and that the creative disciplines are also an integral part of innovation. The rest of this paper will discuss how we can take an active role in achieving this.

On one hand, internationally there is a strong movement for changing the notion of STEM into ‘steAm’, where the added ‘A’ stands for ‘Arts and Design’. However, another option is to explore new strategic and entrepreneurial approaches, integrating many of the business and entrepreneurship topics into arts and design curricula.

Evolving roles of design: from stylistic to tactic and strategic

Design disciplines are evolving with society and technology, and a ‘dematerialisation’ of design is manifesting in service design, user experience design, digital design, strategic design, and others. An interesting example of this evolution is the recently changed orientation of the former International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), which was re-branded as the World Design Organization (WDO). WDO (2017) proposed that ‘(Industrial) Design is a strategic problem-solving process that drives innovation, builds business success, and leads to a better quality of life through innovative products, systems, services, and experiences’. This demonstrates a change in roles within design, from stylistic, cosmetic or decorative, to more tactic roles such as making products and services more functional and desirable, through interaction design, experience design and brand-driven innovation. The broader role of contemporary design acquires new value as a strategic resource, capable of fostering innovation, sustainability, as well as the creation of new business models and national policies which are shaping today’s society.

The role of ‘Design thinking’

While today the term ‘design thinking’ has lost specificity as it has been used and abused, thus often being rejected by design practitioners who see it as just a buzzword that is already expiring. Design researchers have argued that the value of ‘design thinking’ was to popularize the importance of ‘design’ as a core in creative problem-solving, strategic and innovation methods.

A review of the literature shows that an interesting development in the field of design education is the emergence of schools providing design-related programs for non-design professionals (Glen, Suciu, Baughn & Anson, 2015,182; Hasso Platner Institut, 2020; Melles, Howard & Thompson-Whiteside, 2012, 163–164; Stanford, 2020). These attempts to position the value of design in the worlds of business, industry and technology are reminiscent of post-war developments of the discipline at the HfG Ulm (Bonsiepe & Cullars, 1995,15; Fernandez, 2006,4). Although ‘design thinking’ was first described almost fifty years ago (Simon, 1969), it gained prominence as an innovation process during the 2000s (Johansson & Sköldberg, Woodilla, & Çetinkaya, 2013,123). The understanding of Design thinking has evolved through many loose definitions, ranging from ‘what designers do’ (Carr, Halliday, King, Liedtka and Lockwood, 2010, 62); to “approaching management problems as designers approach design problems” (Dunne and Martin, 2006,512); and “design practice […] used beyond the design context, for and with people without a scholarly background in design, particularly in management” (Johansson & Sköldberg et al, 2013,123).

Although design thinking has no standard definition, researchers have attempted to categorise its characteristics in several different ways. One such categorisation, stemming from the management discourse, states that design thinking includes: 1) Practices closely related to concrete activities and ways of working — human-centred approach, thinking by doing, visualising, combination of divergent and convergent approaches, and a collaborative work style; 2) Thinking styles and methods of processing information — abductive reasoning, reflective framing, holistic view and integrative thinking; and 3) Mentality, or mindsets, both in individuals and as part of an organisational culture — experimental and exploratory, ambiguity tolerant, optimistic and future-oriented (Hassi & Laakso, 2011, 5–10).

This combination of practices, cognitive processes and mindsets, commonly present in design thinking, although not as explicitly prevalent in design education, has already been recognised as a strategic tool in the field of management (Dunne & Martin, 2006,512; Johansson & Sköldberg et al, 2013,123; Kotler & Rath, 1984,17; Prandelli, Pasquini & Verona, 2016, 297). Dorst (2011,522–524) argues, however, that the core of design thinking lays in the cognitive process known as ‘abductive reasoning’, defined as “[…] the process of forming an explanatory hypothesis. It is the only logical operation which introduces any new idea […]” (Peirce, 1960). People trained in design use a complex form of abduction that Dorst (2011, 524) refers to as ‘abduction-2’. In this form of abduction, the starting point is an ‘aspired value’ or intended outcome, particularly useful when tackling open-ended or ‘wicked’ problems (Dorst, 2011,523–524), defined as “a class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing” (Rittel, cited in Buchanan, 1992,15). To address these open-ended problems, designers are trained to use ‘framing’, or “the creation of a novel standpoint from which a problematic situation can be tackled” (Dorst, 2011,525). This use of abduction-2 and framing can be said to provide a link between the practices of the design disciplines and the process of forming entrepreneurial opportunities. This, and other links, have been further explored in the work of one of the authors (Potocnjak-Oxman, Kriz & Nailer, 2019), finding a close relationship between the traits of design thinking, and what are referred to as entrepreneurial competencies.

Although entrepreneurship is a complex process requiring the integration of a range of diverse disciplines, and areas of expertise (Bhave, 1994), such as: the recognition of an opportunity, the development of a business concept, the understanding of technological factors, and the engagement with potential customers and other stakeholders; designers, through their collaborative workstyles would be well-suited to facilitate this process within an interdisciplinary team. This relates closely to the increasingly relevant role of ‘designer as a facilitator’ stemming from the co-design or participatory design sub-domains of the design discipline (Sanders & Stappers, 2008). In this sense, designers do not need to become fluent in every aspect of the entrepreneurial process. They can instead draw upon their practices, cognitive processes and mindsets to coordinate the efforts of a range of experts in specific aspects of the process in order to arrive at an entrepreneurial outcome. Design can serve as a pathway to methods and tools to guide the entrepreneurial process (Klein, 2008).

Examples of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Design Education

As part of a 2012 curriculum renewal in the design disciplines in the University of Canberra (UC), a course called ‘Design Strategies’ was developed by one of the authors, as a core component of the Industrial Design (ID) program. This was proposed after a review of design education trends at the time, and in consultation with a professional advisory board. A key aspect was the increasing number of UC industrial design graduates who were working with the government in Canberra, in divisions like the Australian Tax Office (ATO) doing design-related jobs such as, ‘user-experience design’. The ‘Design Strategies’ course was first taught in 2013. The main project of the course aimed to expose students to real-life problems: Opening their eyes to opportunities for design to collaborate with diverse institutions, putting them in touch with their very own ‘local community’, and simulating a ‘professional-client’ relationship. This course was a major shift from the ID program’s traditional industrial design for manufacture (DFM) approach.

This third-year course was open as an elective to different courses, so it was conducted in a multidisciplinary way, with students mostly from industrial design, architecture, interior architecture and graphic design. The course was also available as an elective to students from education, history, Bachelor of Arts, and other disciplines. This version of the course mostly integrated methods from design thinking and service design, while slightly introducing entrepreneurship. Well known design thinking frameworks, such as, the ones developed by IDEO and Stanford were combined with service design tools, including: systems maps, customer journey maps and experience prototyping, among others. During the first three years, the course had a strong focus on strategic design for Health, through two subsequent collaborations with the Calvary Hospital and one with Ochre Health Clinic. Main outcomes were the designs of systems, services and user-experiences applied to problems in the healthcare industry, such as, aggressiveness in Emergency Room (ER) waiting areas, education and training of medical doctors through simulation, and others.

Strategic design for better services in emergency waiting rooms (by Tim Frommel, former student)

However, after three years and in view of student feedback, and new external collaboration opportunities, the focus of the course shifted towards entrepreneurship. The 2016 course, encouraged the creation of simulated small companies, through collaboration with the Mobile Makers Australia project, and the 2017 course established the collaboration with Stir, a co-designed grants programme funded by the Canberra Innovation Network and led by another one of the authors. The programme focused on engaging youth in entrepreneurship, in particular those from creative industry backgrounds (Potocnjak-Oxman & Ward, 2019). In the 2017 version of the course, the ‘user-centred’ design approach was adapted to a ‘customer-centred’ approach, in line with business and entrepreneurship practices. New tools such as: customer validation, and the business model canvas, which are often used in entrepreneurship education, start-ups and business accelerators were introduced in the course.

Within this Australian, Industrial Design education context, the course received a broad range of feedback from students. In general, design students seemed to struggle with the idea of designing a complex system or an integrated experience, and in many cases students insisted in designing a physical ‘product’, according to their discipline, (for example, an electronic device if students were industrial designers, a brochure or website if students were graphic designers, or a space if students were architects). As such, some of the feedback was critical, with comments such as; ‘why do I have to study this? It has nothing to do with my design course. I joined design because I like to make things, not writing reports’. On the other hand, many students appreciated the new skills learnt through the course, which they applied in different ways. A former student commented: ‘this was the most important course of my studies, and it gave me a job in the public service!’. Furthermore, informal comments by some of the 2017 students suggested the value they saw in this course, while some collectively asked ‘why didn’t we see this course since the beginning of our program, as it completely changes the way we understand design’?

In 2018, the main author moved overseas, as the first faculty and founding associate professor in the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI), Dubai’s first specialized design university, founded in collaboration with MIT and Parsons the New School of Design. In 2020, DIDI is currently in its second year of a 4-year Bachelor of Design (BDes), with a transdisciplinary focus, and with emphasis in merging design with technology, strategy and innovation to prepare students for future jobs which still don’t exist. After a one-year foundation program, students choose two cross-concentrations (or specializations) from four options which include: 1) Product Design, 2) Fashion Design, 3) Multimedia Design and 4) Strategic Design Management. These four options offer six combinations, where transdisciplinary design occurs. For example, a student interested in the design of interactive and smart wearables can take studios and workshops in Product and Fashion design, or in Fashion and Multimedia design, for this purpose.

As part of the curriculum development, in view of local needs and priorities and building on prior experiences and feedback from former students, one of the authors proposed and implemented a Design Strategies and Entrepreneurship course to be embedded in the first year, second semester of the bachelor’s degree. The course introduced students earlier on to strategy and entrepreneurship, in order to embed in students an entrepreneurial mindset early in their studies.

The first iteration of this course, conducted in Spring 2019, took a Design for Health approach, and was developed in collaboration with faculty from the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medical Sciences, MBRU. Main outcomes were the designs of systems, services and user-experiences, with a clear business model, and finalizing with a 3-minute pitch which simulated a pitch for funds to investors. Most of the ideas had strong local or international relevance, with projects ranging from ideas to use blockchain for e-health, to apps to motivate local youth to be more active.

The second and latest iteration of the course in Spring 2020 is being co-taught by two of the authors and has taken into consideration the psychological elements of entrepreneurship such as, the right combination of personal motivation, purpose and goals. Initially, students were asked to use Ayse Birsel’s deconstruction-reconstruction methodology and apply it to their own professional aspirations. Based upon the resulting individual vision board, their next task was to correlate this with the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development goals, mapping the intersection between their personal goals and our collective goals as a planetary species. The insights obtained from this exercise have then served as a springboard for the ideation of a value proposition and business model for a start-up.

E-learning sessions in DIDI during covid-19 pandemic lockout in 2020

Individually, students then created a 3-minute video pitch to showcase their ideas in an engaging way that expressed their leadership skills and charisma in order to get other students to be excited about their ideas. Each student could vote for only one other project, and the most voted projects could then form their own working teams to develop their first prototype of the service or product being created. We have started with individual insights, developed their interests in relation to real world needs, and then simulated some of the conditions entrepreneurs will face when trying to launch a business idea.

Entrepreneurship Education in Design or Design of Entrepreneurship Education?

Another perspective on the relationship between design and entrepreneurship education is to recognise that design, through its user-experience-centred skill set, is capable of developing learning experiences within and beyond the context of the design school. By thinking of a ‘course as a service’, with the ‘curriculum as a design brief’, the designer’s skill-sets become valuable to a wide range of disciplines, in particular those of management and entrepreneurship education. Research into entrepreneurship education highlights the importance of action-based, or ‘learning by doing’ approaches (Laukkanen, 2000,36–37; Rasmussen & Sørheim, 2006), with emphasis on stakeholder engagement, use of game mechanics, and the development of an entrepreneurial identity. More importantly, management scholars talk of the importance of including design practices in entrepreneurship and management education (Dunne & Martin, 2006,513; Neck & Greene, 2011,62). This provides an opportunity for designers to take an active role in the development of entrepreneurship curricula. Examples of this already exist in Canberra, with one of the authors of this paper, who trained as an industrial designer, having designed and delivered innovation and entrepreneurship courses at the Australian National University’s Research School of Management since 2013. This author has been the convenor for the undergraduate ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation’ and the postgraduate ‘Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation’ courses, both focused on practical approaches to conceiving and developing entrepreneurial opportunities through use of the business model framework (Australian National University, 2020a; 2020b). In addition, along with a team led by designers, between 2014 and 2017 they developed and delivered the curriculum and activities for InnovationACT, Canberra’s largest entrepreneurship program (InnovationACT, 2017).

Through the use of practices common in design education, the InnovationACT program has moved from a commerce student-oriented business planning competition, to a multidisciplinary innovation process that addresses many of the design thinking practices (Hassi & Laakso, 2011,6) and entrepreneurial competencies (Morris, Webb, Fu & Singhal, 2013,352;358). During their first intervention in 2014, the program received close to 30 teams. This number doubled since then, to over 60 in 2017. The learnings gathered from the design of these entrepreneurship education programs is the driving force behind the Stir platform, aimed at engaging people from creative industry backgrounds, particularly design, to engage with the entrepreneurship ecosystem. This is important, as emergent designers should not be left out of the increase in the number of designers playing strategic decision-making roles in the global move towards innovation-based economies. This phenomenon is of interest, considering how large multinational corporations and venture capital funds are increasingly attempting to embed design capabilities (Maeda, 2016).

A more recent example of the benefits that a design perspective can provide to management education is the ‘Design Thinking: Entrepreneurial Innovation’ course at the Australian National University. This course uses a live project model (Watt & Cottrell, 2006) structured around the Double Diamond framework (Design Council, 2019). It aims to guide design and non-design students through the process of addressing an innovation challenge presented by a client organisation. By encouraging engagement with external environments, defining specific aspects of a wicked problem to tackle, developing low fidelity prototypes, and proposing a solution that can be embedded in the organisational context, the course involves many of the components of an entrepreneurial process. During its first iteration, it collaborated with the Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology (CEAT, 2019). Although the students with non-design backgrounds struggled to start working on the project, their final concepts were of higher quality than expected by the teaching team and the client. Of the six projects developed during the course, one was selected by the client for implementation, with the students being recruited as part-time consultants by the institution. This provided the students both with a great sense of accomplishment, and a clear sense that design thinking could enable them to overcome uncertainty and devise solutions to complex organisational problems. The course and its outcomes were presented as part of the Australian National University’s technology-enhanced learning conference, TELFest (Potocnjak-Oxman, Hickey & Burns, 2019).


It is regrettable that many National Innovation programs do not consider design, and other creative disciplines, as drivers for innovation. As design educators, we must do something about this! We must demonstrate to industry, the government and other stakeholders that design is important for all, and that the creative disciplines are an integral part of innovation, cultural exchange and economic exchange. An option to do this is to explore new strategic and entrepreneurial roles for design practice, integrating strategy and innovation methods with business and entrepreneurship topics into future-oriented design education and curricula.

No two individual students are alike, and a one-size-fits-all approach is impossible to achieve when designing a course or curriculum. Flexibility and the ability for personal customisation are becoming increasingly important in today’s education. As such, it is understandable that most students who join design courses are mainly interested in the physicality, materiality and specialties of a course they have chosen, most possibly influenced by traditional and popular perceptions of design as styling and making. It is also well known that many students will join design courses because they like to ‘make’ and ‘draw’, but also precisely because they don’t like to ‘write’. While ‘drawing’, ‘making’ and ‘doing’ are still integral in design education and practice, it is important to provide our students with avenues to explore more contemporary, strategic, and future-oriented approaches to design.

We are convinced of the value of this transdisciplinary and strategic design education approach, and argue that while it is predictable that many students from design and creative industries understandably dislike such theoretical or business-oriented courses, these studies are fundamental for a well-rounded preparation of any future professional. At any point in their career, designers, and even artists, will have to deal with aspects of businesses and markets, having to ‘sell’ a design, a work of art, or just even ‘selling an idea’ in any other type of job. Furthermore, many of the design professions as we know them are changing and many jobs are disappearing. A specific case is traditional industrial design jobs with a focus on design for manufacture in a country like Australia, where local manufacture has moved overseas and radically decreased in the last decades. Pedagogical experiences as the ones here described aim to prepare students for these ‘open and broad challenges’ of the future, hopefully not only making them more employable in a wider range of future-jobs, but most importantly, equipping design students with the mindset and tools to start their own businesses.

The initial experiments with these courses, which focus on strategy, entrepreneurship and innovation (by merging strategic design and entrepreneurship) raise many questions for further research, which we intend to explore. Do designers engage with entrepreneurship? Why, or why not? Does engagement of designers in entrepreneurship depend on personality traits?


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About the authors:

Dr. Carlos Montana-Hoyos is currently the founding Associate Professor of the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation DIDI, Dubai’s first specialized design university founded in collaboration with MIT and Parsons the New School of Design. Carlos is an award-winning industrial designer and educator with interests in multidisciplinary and cross-cultural approaches to design, and expertise in Design for Health and Sports, Biomimicry and Sustainability. Prior to joining DIDI he was Associate Professor of Industrial Design in the University of Canberra, Australia (2010–2018), Assistant Professor of Industrial Design in the National University of Singapore (2006–2010) and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Product Design Engineering in EAFIT University in Colombia (2001–2003). As a professional designer he has worked in numerous companies designing furniture, lamps, ceramics, electric appliances and others. Carlos has a BAID from Javeriana University in Colombia (1997). In 2003 he was awarded a scholarship from the Japanese Government, graduating cum laude, and obtaining a MAID (2006) and a PhD (2009) from Kobe Design University.

Camilo Potocnjak-Oxman is an Industrial Designer with a Master of Management. He began his career in Santiago, Chile, where he was exposed to the importance of design promotion during his undergraduate studies. After launching a social network for design students, he became the first designer to teach at the Universidad de Chile’s Department of Industrial Engineering. He later moved to Canberra, Australia to pursue postgraduate studies, eventually being recruited to teach innovation and entrepreneurship-related subjects at the Australian National University’s Research School of Management. He is currently an Associate Lecturer and Program Convenor for the Master of Entrepreneurship & Innovation. He has spent the past ten years focusing on how to draw upon design practices to teach entrepreneurship and is currently working on a PhD connecting both fields. In his free time, he likes to read science fiction, build model kits and make electronic music.

Dr. Renata Lemos Morais is an Associate Professor of Multimedia Design in the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, Dubai’s first specialized design university, founded in collaboration with MIT and Parsons the New School of Design. Renata’s career spans across diverse areas related to design and innovation, consistently creating new bridges between creative industries and higher education. In her capacity as both a scholar and entrepreneur, she has helped universities from around the world to re-design their approach to multimedia education in ways that include innovation. Currently, she is pursuing her second PhD at the University of Melbourne exploring the relationship of Artificial Intelligence to the data semiotics of the self, under the supervision of Dr. Simon Cropper. Her research is part of the Complex Human Data Hub research centre, investigating the psychological implications of current innovations in data gathering devices and wearables.

** This paper is an edited and updated version of : Montana-Hoyos, C, Potocnjak-Oxman, C. (2017) Innovation is not only STEM! The value of strategic and entrepreneurial approaches in Art and Design Education. Proceedings of the Australian Council of Universities of Arts and Design (ACUADS) Annual Conference 2017, and was also published in Montana-Hoyos, C. Potocnjak-Oxman, C. Lemos Morais, R. (2020) Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Design Education for Future Practice. Design for All Journal, Design Institute of India. April 2020 Vol 15. No 4. Both are open source.



Carlos Montana
Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation

Dr. Carlos Montana-Hoyos is an award-winning designer and academic, currently the founding associate professor of the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation.