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October 02, 2007



Going to the design school is very cool, and I think it's a good opportunity for u. I meet many friends on a site called bikerkiss. We usually talk about Harley designs there. I think it's a good place for u.


I'm so jealous!! I'm stuck working full time and I'm in one of those not-so-fancy, outdated MBA programs. Can I be your admin when you graduate? Seriously, can I?

Erik Peterson

Some thoughts on your new explanation of what you are learning in design school.

One of the challenges you are facing is that you are using abstractions to describe an abstraction. The idea of 'design-centered thinking, planning and strategy' can mean many things to many people. It's an abstract idea. When you use abstract ideas to explain 'design-centered thinking, planning and strategy', it doesn't make things clearer for the listener. Examples of abstractions in your description:

'strategic way of thinking'
'unmet needs'
'real value'

If you want people to 'get' an abstract idea, it helps if you use concrete descriptions/words and contrast (what the idea is and what it isn't).

Here are some ideas for how you could make things more clear.

First, start with describing the challenge you believe that 'design-centered thinking, planning and strategy' fixes. Describe it in as concrete a manner as possible. Use a real-world example that most people would be familiar with. Then, contrast that with how 'design-centered thinking, planning and strategy' would have solved that problem or prevented it. Again, use concrete words to make it as clear as possible how that 'design-centered thinking, planning and strategy' would fix that problem.

If you find yourself thinking, 'but it would be really hard to come up with a good, real-world example of the problem and how 'design-centered thinking, planning and strategy' would solve it', then you will see how hard it is for others to understand what it is.

BTW, this is an important challenge for everyone in your world. Your ability to drive change in the world will be directly tied to how well you take this abstract idea and make it concrete.

Best of luck to you!

Jon Campbell

Good points, Erik. The danger in trying to describe the broad benefits of a concept is you may just use descriptors as vague as the concept you were trying to clarify. I'll take a second pass, or alternatively, need to provide a bunch of footnotes providing definitions in context for my explanation. Let me know if version 2 helps any.


Vince LaConte

Jon that's an excellent definition of how IIT-ID sees design (and plenty of others too.) Although, I agree with Erik above about making it more concrete for the "laity". This can sometimes seem forced and can even bring a premature end to your interlocutors' "that's cool" moment, if the concrete example you choose doesn't ring their bell either. You could try:

- iPod/iPhone/Apple's march to dominance (or Mordor) -- everyone "gets" that these products are not JUST sleekly designed, are not even "just products", they are useful, and usable, and tie into other systems that are equally so, and which expand their usefulness many times. A classic large-scale systems-of-innovation design strategy, killingly implemented by Apple on their warpath to Mordor - I mean Redmond. Many other, better, concrete examples from F500 abound; just ask Prof Kumar, I believe he is writing a book on the subject...

- begin with a brief disclaimer on what kind of design you're NOT studying. It's not logos, clothes, hair, films, pottery -- it's not the typical "graphic design" or "industrial design" or "design management" either, although we're getting closer. What it really is, is taking as our material the early-stage technology or business ideas a company has, those where we sense great potential value for both company and end-user, but also those of which we have not the foggiest idea how to design into killer products or services that fit a company's brand and help it win in the market. "We take all that glitters but is not clearly gold in a company's strategic war-chest, and we make it clear, not only where the real gold is, but how it should be molded into the perfect new golden widget for today's busy consumer."

Here endeth the rant. Good God man, you've started a blog and gotten everyone and Bruce Nussbaum's sister talking about you! And you're still in your freshman 7 weeks at ID! /me impressed/


I am currently an MBA student at the Kellogg School of Management, and I agree with your assessment of design education versus traditional business school education. However, a small handful of business schools (Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Kellogg, Rotman) are recognizing the value of design-thinking, and have launched fledgling design programs of their own. Even IIT has a combined MBA/M.s. Design dual degree program. I think there's integrative value here...neither is going away. Good luck in school!


Jon -
David Armano turned me on to your blog. I'm facing the same dilemma it seems you have gone through. I'm considering the my career and agree that design is key to the future of business for innovation and development. I've been exploring MBA versus MDes and will be looking at the MDM program you're involved with. As a fellow Milwaukeean, it looks like Chicago is the location that is leading the way via IIT or Kellogg to achieve that type of education.

I'll be curious to follow your posts and get a better idea of how you reached the decision to go the MDM route and what you feel the future value for you and your career will be.

Good Luck.

todd kalhar

Jon, I came to your blog by way of David Armano as well and I'm insanely jealous! Please keep sharing your insights and experiences at Chicago's ID. I've been searching for a couple of years for programs that are more than "just another MBA" or a design degree that focuses exclusively on graphic/industrial design. I'm not in a position to up and move to Chicago, so I'm stuck looking for things in the Northwest (my current stomping grounds). If anyone there has a recommendation for a similar program out here, please pass it on.

In the meantime, I'll be living vicariously through your entries!

All the best to you on your journey!


Enjoy the journey - you will soon discover that "design is elegant problem solving" - it is just that simple.

(elegant having nothing at all to do with fashion but to mean: displaying effortless beauty and simplicity in movement or execution; "an elegant dancer"; "an elegant mathematical solution -- simple and precise" - from the 3rd definition at wordnet.princeton.edu)

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