You are on page 1of 8

Teaching Innovation, Design and Creativity

Design Council, 20 May 2003

Report by Hugh Aldersley-Williams

As long as you teach just design or design management, thats all right. If
you teach just business, thats all right too. Its when you try to integrate the
two that the problems start.
This was how Bettina von Stamm, of the Innovation Exchange at London
Business School, set out the challenge confronting this seminar for design
and business management educators.
The purpose of the seminar was to discover why educators experience these
problems and to find ways round them. But first, another question needed
answering: why try to integrate design and business teaching methods at all?
The answer to this lies in the growing evidence that companies that
consciously use design are more successful innovators, and the widespread
feelingfirst expressed by professors of marketing 20-odd years agothat
therefore design is a potential strategic tool for business, albeit widely
neglected as such.
Key to creativity
In the educational arena, one reason for this neglect may be that design is
by its nature a cross-disciplinary activity which struggles to find its place
amid rigidly defined academic departments. Yet innovation too often relies
on connections between disciplines, and everybody regards that as a holy
grail. For von Stamm, design is a ready-made key to unlocking innovation
and creativity. Innovation has to be cross-disciplinary to be successful, and
design is an activity that generally operates across, and integrates, different
disciplines, she explains.
Here, then, is the incentive for bringing design into business education. Yet
efforts to do this havent really taken hold at the few UK business schools
that have tried it. David Walker of Giraffe Innovation Consultants reckons the
two warring tribes of design and business he described in his contribution to
Mark Oakleys handbook Design Management (1990) are a little less
entrenched than they were. But progress towards reconciliation, and beyond
that to productive collaboration, is slow. So what can be done to speed
things up?

page 2
Visual leaders or village idiots
Borrowing that classic business school tool, the SWOT analysis, Walker
reveals some of the reasons for this. For a start, the strengths of management
education and design are nearly oppositeare they usefully complementary
or merely antithetical? Management education prizes the general, pragmatic
and global, and makes use of the case study method; design is particular,
craft-led, and requires imaginative work. As for weaknesses, an MBA program
has a strong orthodoxy in which it is hard to insert new elements, while
design teaching is personalised and egocentric, and encourages students to
develop a romantic self-image. They see themselves as the outsiders. They
train themselves to be the outsiders. So how is it that when they come to
work in business they want more status and respect?
Nevertheless, there are clear opportunities. Business could use more visually
led management in which design skills were used to reflect and analyse
management problems. Design, conversely, an activity that traditionally
resists frameworks, might sometimes benefit from being framed in a
management context. The risk, if these opportunities are not seized, is that
management education becomes more philistine, commercial and corrupt,
and that design education becomes an escapist fantasy turning out the
village idiots of the business community.
Seeds of enterprise
Margaret Bruce showed how the cross-disciplinary bridges might be built
amid a scene of much greater upheaval. Rather than add a design module to
an MBA or a business element to a design course, Bruce, as the director of
the Manchester Design Enterprise Centre, has brought the two together
anew for a new course in a more liberated environment. The opportunity
arose as the consequence of the coming merger of Manchester universities,
and marks an extension of an existing programme to bring more
entrepreneurship into scientific innovation in the citys educational
By creating something new in this way, rather than tinkering with established
courses, it was possible to secure funding to create a venture centre. In this
environment, postgraduate students are introduced to the real tools of
enterprise through venturing, working with people with other skills, and
taking ideas to market. There is real-world contact with expert advisors and
investors. The most promising ideas generated are rapidly moved off-site for
business acceleration in an area already home to other micro businesses.

page 3
There are no objective criteria for measuring the success of the programme,
Bruce concedes. But for the moment, this hardly matters. Im very excited. It
enables me in the academic world to do something very practical by bringing
scientists, technologists, designers and management people into this melting
pot where weve created new organisational forms and new types of funding
to facilitate business development and growth.
Differences that design makes
Business is about doing something uniquely better, and design really helps
achieve that uniqueness, suggests Simon Williams, a partner at the
Kleindahl venture production company. The search for difference is
hampered, however, not only in a design sense by the illusory safety of going
for a product that is like other products, but in an abstract management
sense too. Here the standardised knowledge set, in business education
globally sees to it that students tend to consider the same problems in the
same way, making it hardly surprising that they keep coming up with the
same tired solutions.
At Kleindahl, says Williams, we look for design because it createsand more
importantly, capturescommercial value. It is this captured value that allows
the company to set itself in a direction that is different from the tide of
market. It is also what allows it to charge a premium for its products, and to
build its brand and remain protected against copyists. Similar clarity of vision
at an organisational level this is what I want to do, and this is why its
different - generates loyalty among both staff and customers.
Newer to the business education experience is to look at the way innovative
and creative markets actually workby bringing in the right people with the
right creative skills at the right time. This project mode of operation may
require more coordination and management, but ways of achieving this can
be picked up from the creative industries too. Some ethics of creative work
encourage experiment and tolerate failure. And there are trajectories towards
success other than waiting for a blinding flash of inspiration. Design doesnt
have that many eureka moments, says Williams. It tends to have lots of halfideas. All these observations offer novel models for business.

page 4

Four questions were put to discussion groups;

How do you identify where design would fit in business education?
How do you get true collaboration across faculty?
What strategies could be used to develop new courses that integrate
How do you find the right teachers and contributors?
Each of the discussion groups reported back in turn. There was a tendency to
restate the original problems and the usual debate about definitions. But
collectively, several key issues emerged. One group noted designs lack of a
substantial theoretical base. The sooner we can get that the sooner the
management schools can buy into its being a credible academic discipline.
Others commented that this foundation was not actually absent, but simply
needed to be reclaimed from fields such as psychology, sociology and
marketing, which had asset-stripped design. Meanwhile, there was a
growing body of weighty new research from all over the UK.
A broader issue was how to stimulate students to greater creativity away
from any defined discipline. Creativity is never actually taught, it was noted,
either in design schools or in business schools. In the former, the presumption
is that everybody is creative anyway, in the latter, it is assumed that nobodys
creative and that creativity doesnt much matter.
For both design and business students, it was felt important to acquire
credibility and authority with the other community. Especially for the
designers, this comes from being able to speak the others language. This
demands ability as well as the confidence - two distinct skills. Business
people for their part need to be schooled in how to evaluate design offerings.
As for integrating design into new courses, seminar attendees felt that at
present neither students nor businesses are sufficiently aware of what an
appropriate teaching element in design could contribute to business
education. It might be no good offering courses if there is not a ready
interest from students in taking them or from businesses in hearing from
those whove been on them. Whats needed is for enough students to take up
such courses and push the case for them to be fully integrated rather than
add-on extras to existing courses. One view was that the shift would have to
be market-led. In other words, it would only happen when graduating MBAs
expect to be asked what do you know about design? in job interviews.

page 5
In conclusion, Bettina von Stamm returned to her conviction that design is
the key to making innovation happen. The trouble is, you cant tell people
what design is, you have to let them do it. This is the dilemma of design
management. In a business school, it has to be theoretical.
Well, does it? challenged one sharp member of the audience.
It suddenly seemed a fair question. Could the solution to teaching innovation
and creativity lie not so much in talking about design in business schools but
in actually getting students involved in it? At the moment, even the former
seems enough of a challenge, given the conservative nature of course
structures. Would it be worth pushing on to try to bring about this much
more surprising and ambitious shift in attitudes? Theres probably only one
way to find outand thats for the educators too to start doing it rather than
talking about it.

page 6

Problems identified
University departments too
rigidly organised to deal
with cross-disciplinary design

Solutions recommended
Create university environments conducive to
cross-disciplinary cooperation (von Stamm)
Take advantage of large-scale change, such as
departmental or institutional mergers to establish
entirely new hybrid programmes unencumbered
by traditional departmental baggage (Bruce)
Rather than implant design in business education
or vice versa, create an entirely new course that
combines them and other vital disciplines
from the outset (Bruce)

Designers are not businessliterate

Giving designers short courses in the rudiments

of business would empower them in the
employment of their core skills (Walker)

Business school curricula are

over-full and leave no time
for creative play

The more we can do to make management

education like nursery education the better (Walker)

Students dont have the time

to develop cross-disciplinary

Make time for learning by doing teaching


Design cannot be squeezed

into heavy MBA course load

There is more scope to introduce design to workexperienced postgraduates

Conversely, first-year students have fewer
prejudices and may be more receptive to design
as a course element

Its hard to secure funds to

resource cross-disciplinary
modification of existing

Think bigger: go outside the classroom and seek

funding for an independent venture centre (Bruce)

page 7
programmes to teach
innovation and creativity in
business schools are often
dependent on a key
individualif that person
leaves, the programmes tend
to wither

Rapid roll-out of programmes to other schools

based on leading models can help overcome
this effect (von Stamm)

Business school students

disparage touchy-feely world
of design

Get students out of the classroom and

engaged in real activity to overcome prejudices
as to what design is about
Investigate how students in design schools and
business schools establish their communal
identities which is where these prejudices
are incorporated

Business students dont see

design as relevant to them

Design lacks a substantial

theoretical base

collaboration is hard to
activate at the faculty level

Business schools tend to talk

but not practice what they

Every management decision has its design phase.

Locate these and point them out in standard
business school case studies
Base case studies on students actual experience
of the innovation process
The sense of ownership of their ideas by the
students might be a spur to creativity
Reclaim this from disciplines such as psychology,
sociology and marketing
Pool design management resources in such a way
that they are known and available to business
Add an integration module, as at de Montfort
University, to broker links between different
disciplines and departments
Focus on a rudimentary course which contains
the roots of both business and creativity
(Commercial ideas, Invention, Entrepreneurship?)
Engage with industry to introduce an element of the
real world. Real-world problems are more obviously
often design problems as well as business problems

page 8

Create new environments in business schools, such

as the introduction of a studio space
Provide business school students with tools that
lay emphasis on the visual, such as Photoshop

Unless the Dean of an

institution drives or actively
backs cross-departmental
collaboration, it tends not to

Proselytize among Deans at the Association of

Business Schools annual meeting

Design modules in business

courses tend to get dropped
once their champion leaves
because they are not
traditional or their merits are
not recognized

Identify an effective means of evaluating design