As I’ve written previously in Merge, the issue of how design educators address entrepreneurship is a real puzzle. Aside from the requisite “professional practice” course that most designers endure, there is little-to-no discussion of the core elements of building a business. We’re seeing some truly innovative graduate-level programs emerging especially in the industrial design area, such as the much-heralded Stanford D School and lower profile entries, like the University of Cincinnati, Design, Architecture, Art & Planning Program, and California College of the Arts. The Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts is one of the only programs I’ve found that has roots in communication design.
At the undergraduate level, the picture is even more bleak. With the exception of bright spots like the University of Illinois Chicago, I’m not seeing a whole lot of emphasis on innovative business thinking in communication design programs (please, tell me if I’m missing something obvious). One encouraging sign is the increasing number of programs that offer collaborative programs either within a school or between schools, like the split major that a student in the Washington University in St. Louis School of Art can achieve with the WU Olin School of Business.
There was a recent flurry of Twitter activity around a blog post by Ryan Jacoby, a business designer and one of the leaders of the IDEO New York studio, who has created an experimental curriculum for an advanced degree in Business Design. It seems to be built on the framework of an MBA curriculum, but implemented through the lens of design thinking. It’s a very fresh approach infused with a surprisingly playful attitude with courses like Organizational Design and Culture (Charts & Farts). Check out the extensive commentary on Ryan’s post, which really extends the conversation nicely.
Here’s a helpful reference from BusinessWeek of top D-Schools (which seems to have a mostly industrial design focus).
This is a significant challenge for communication design programs. The successful designer of 2015 and beyond will not be able to rely solely on her ability to help solve her client’s creative or strategic problems. The landscape for designers will be dramatically changed by then and the design success stories will be about designers bringing innovative products to market. Thus far, however, there simply aren’t enough places for designers to learn the skills that will prepare us for this reality.