That's the reaction I got from some coworkers last week when they learned that I was leaving Harley-Davidson to go to the Institute of Design (ID) full time for my Master of Design Methods degree. That's the same reaction I've received from acquaintances, family friends and others over the last couple of months.
This is related to the issue Bruce Nussbaum's blog post mentions regarding coverage of the NY Times where he states:
"It's not that the article is bad--it's a nice discussion about how back-end process innovation is often key to the success of products. The problem is the rarity of this kind of piece in the NYT. Design in the Times is still mostly about style, aesthetics and fashion. Glitzy, cool stuff with skinny models and empty, but beautiful homes. Coverage of design in the Times is a throwback to, what, the 50's? The entire evolution of design out of simple form to process, methods, strategy and more just isn't in the newspaper. Even the business side of fashion, which is huge, is barely covered."
Many people still think of design in terms of creating logos (graphic), cars (industrial), or the good ol' haute couture (fashion). These all fall under the broad umbrella of big D Design, but for a marketing manager at a Fortune 500 to leave to work on what many envision is a degree in making logos and pantsuits doesn't really make sense to a lot of people. So to make sure they don't have a mental image of me appearing on Project Runway, I inevitably fill in the pause after "That's cool!" with a five-minute explanation of what design-centered thinking, planning and strategy is, how that leads to innovative products, services, business models, and ultimately revenue to a company, and how it's the Future of Business, and that programs like ID are years ahead of mainstream business, fancy MBA programs and super narrowly-focused "design as a trade" schools. Not surprisingly, I often end up boring people. In fact, I might have just lost some of you readers.
Therefore, I thought I'd try my hand at writing up a brief explanation of design in the context of the program I'm attending. A quick way to get the gist across when I tell someone what I'm currently up to. Here it goes:
Design is a strategic way of thinking that places the user at the center of all decisions, using an iterative approach to deliver on unmet needs that creates real value for users and thereby for the organization.
Does that work? Is it too light on conveying the power of design? Is it too vague? What do you think?
In future posts I'll start digging into why design thinking is only going to get bigger, how it will be key to any company's future success, how it can solve world hunger (I put that in to be a smart ass but, in fact, it holds the potential to solve problems of that scale), etc. And I'll throw out my two cents on why I believe this is a more valuable degree going forward than an MBA for many people currently looking at going to grad school.