Designing Better Futures elective, September 2014

This year, the MBA Designing Better Futures elective takes place over three days, at Said Business School in Oxford and Central Saint Martins in London.

Highlights include

– A one-day service innovation workshop during which MBA students collaborate with MDes and BA design students from University of the Arts London. This focuses on healthcare and well-being challenges, centred around a new care planning digital tool developed by Digital Life Sciences and their NHS primary healthcare partners. The workshop will help DLS explore how its digital tools can be bundled into new value constellations through which several different actors co-create value together. Methods used will include ethnographic interviews, developing personas for user and carer segments, visualising the service ecology and defining outcomes for the service.

– Guest speaker Christian Madsbjerg, co-founder of innovation and research consultancy ReD Associates and co-author of The Moment of Clarity (2014), on ethnographic and humanities research.

– Guest speaker Kevin McCullaugh of product strategy firm Plan, and commentator on product innovation, such as this recent Fast Company post about the Apple Watch and wearables

– A visit to Barclays’ Design Office at Canary Wharf, an in-house innovation team centred on design principles, customer insight, service design and agile digital product development, hosted by head of design Rob Brown.

The elective combines practical experiences of design methods and innovation techniques, along with key readings and discussion about the value and role of strategic design in organisations and in relation to complex collective challenges such as behaviour change.

Designing Better Futures elective, 2014

This year’s MBA Designing Better Futures elective will be running in compressed form as a summer elective open to full-time MBA and EMBA students.

Dates: Weds 17 – Fri 19 September 2014

Location: Park End Street and London

The elective will include practical activities in the form of a service design workshop relating to an organisational project, possibly in e-health.

Guest speakers include Christian Madsbjerg, co-founder of innovation and research consultancy ReD Associates and co-author of The Moment of Clarity (2014).

MBA elective in Design for Innovation and Change 2013

This class, taken by 48 full-time MBA students, is running April-June 2013.  The elective aims to give students practical, hands-on exposure to design methods, sometimes called “design thinking” complemented by academic research on strategic design in organisations and community change.

Five of the eight sessions involve using design-based methods to support early-stage ventures. Mixed teams of students are each working with an entrepreneur, selected by our partner Emerge Venture Labs. The methods we’ve used include: ethnographically-inspired user research, creating personas, describing user journeys, and mapping the service ecology.

The photos below are snaps from this week’s class, in which the eight teams articulated a question that they aimed to answer by lo-fi prototyping. Depending on the venture, this took the form of creating mock-ups of marketing material, a particular user’s experience of finding and engaging with an online service, and a visualisation of the possible business model.

MBA 2013 prototyping class MBA 2013 prototyping class MBA 2013 prototyping class




This year’s teaching on the Oxford MBA

In 2013, I’m teaching two electives on the MBA at Said Business School.

First up is the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship‘s new MBA elective in Design for Innovation and Change, running once a week in April-June (ie Trinity term). There’s a cap of 35 students for this class as it’s very hands on – in fact Pamela Hartigan, director of the Skoll Centre, says it’s the only hands-on elective in the MBA. I taught a couple of classes on this elective last year. But this year I’m running and teaching the whole thing with a range of guest lectures from leading practitioners, complementing the main focus which is enabling students to explore the value of design approaches and methods using my Social Design Methods Menu, and using these with entrepreneurs gathered by our partners the Emerge Venture Lab. Students taking the class will have opportunities to use design approaches and methods to help their partner venture over the several weeks of the elective. This elective is not exclusively focussed on social enterprise, but rather helps students understand a range of contexts in which design can contribute to enterprises – which might include designing for social impacts.

Then, for the exec MBAs during the summer, I’l be teaching my usual Designing Better Futures elective (summarised in this blog), probably during the first week of July. This has some overlaps with the Trinity term elective but some differences too. Like the Design for Innovation and Change elective, Designing Better Futures considers design for social enterprise but looks at design for any kind of organization or community goals. Last year this class was taken by 29 EMBAs and 26 students on the full-time MBA, a mix that worked really well. This year we will again collaborate with MA Service Design Innovation students from London College of Communication and work on a real world project. So this elective is also hands-on, but has more of a focus on thinking through how to bring design approaches to organizations and what this means for managers.

Here’s how they are different and similar:

Design for Innovation and Change

  • Full-time MBA
  • Trinity term elective (weekly on Tuesdays at 1330-1645 during April-June 2013)
  • Cap of 35 students
  • Partners: Emerge Venture Labs, who’ll link us to enterprises (technology, education and social ventures) who’ll become the projects MBA students will work on in small teams trying out various design methods
  • Mentor-designers we’ll work with: (to be confirmed) designers linked with the UK Design Council
  • Topics: design thinking, design methods, design-ethnography, designing for services
  • Focus: designing for ventures
  • Studio visits in London

Designing Better Futures

  • Exec MBA + full-time MBA
  • Summer elective (dates to be confirmed, but likely to be the first week of July)
  • Cap of 50 students
  • Designers we’ll work with: MA Service Design Innovation students from London College of Communication
  • Topics: design thinking, managing as designing, evaluating design, organizing for design-led innovation, designing for services
  • Focus: designing for organizations, ventures and communities
  • Studio visits in London

Exec MBA summer elective, summer 2012

This year’s version of the elective had the highest number of students take the MBA elective in Designing Better Futures – 29 taking the exec MBA and, 26 on the full-time MBA. I’ll provide a full write-up soon but in the meantime, here are some photos from the collaborative workshop in which the MBAs joined MDes Service Design Innovation students from London College of Communication on a 2 day project developing service experience and business models for the social venture Care 4 Care. 



This year’s MBA design electives at Said Business School

My MBA elective in Designing Better Futures (previously ‘Design Leadership’) will take place as a summer elective available to both executive and full-time MBA students at Said Business School between 1-14 July 2012. Once again this elective will give students opportunities to explore and assess the contributions that design-based approaches bring to contemporary challenges facing organisations and communities. Again, we’ll be collaborating with the MDes Service Design Innovation students from London College of Communication, directed by Alison Prendiville.

We are still working out the details of the joint project but it is likely to involve some prototyping and exploration of new service and business models, including working in the studio at LCC and a trip to other London design venues. In previous years in this elective students have worked on designing services to change travel behaviours, the product-service system for a new medical device, and supporting social enterprise Soul of Africa (see this blog for details)

In addition, this year I will be kicking off the new MBA elective in Design for Innovation and Change put on by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship based at Said. Led by Pamela Hartigan and Alex Nicholls, this new elective is running in Trinity term (ie for full-time MBAs only) in response to student demand for additional teaching in this area. I’ll be teaching the first of the eight classes on April 19, with an overview of design in the context of social innovation and change, and a rapid introduction to design thinking.

This course covers some similar ground to my elective. The major differences between the two electives are that my elective

  • offers opportunities to undertake design activities in collaboration with students from a design school
  • draws on a wide range of literatures that explore the value and nature of design-based approaches including organisation studies, science and technology studies and design studies
  • includes extensive hands-on practical exercise to expose students to methods and concepts used by leading contemporary designers
  • develops skills in design literacy.

Now in its seventh year, the Designing Better Futures elective is usually taken by up to 45 MBAs. Students say it is a unique opportunity to explore approaches from  professional design and relate them back to one’s own profession and context. If that’s not attractive….it’s also one of few formal classes at Said that is knowingly playful and creative.

MBA elective, summer 2011: Designing services for changed travel behaviours

Close up of student work during service design workshop

This year’s MBA elective in Designing Better Futures at Said Business School took place 17-21 July. This included a two-day intensive, hands-on collaborative workshop working on a contemporary challenge – reducing carbon impact by changing travel behaviours.

Following last year’s successful project involving students taking my elective and students from London College of Communication, this year we are again worked with students from that course, as well as an industry partner and a local authority to take part in some rapid idea generation and prototyping around services for more sustainable travel.

Over two days, students worked  in small teams to explore issues around reducing car usage and generate and visualize solutions for new services for the Oxfordshire town of Bicester in 2015 that might involve changed behaviours, new forms of data usage and new models for service systems.

Concepts we worked with included: behaviours and practices, shareable services and open data. Combining concepts and theories from management, design and innovation, the project was unusual in using a collaborative design-based approach to imagine future services. We repeatedly emphasized that the service concepts had to work across all four of these aspects of practice:

  • Material: artefacts, infrastructures, built environment
  • Symbolic: meanings, identities, norms
  • Affective: emotions, feelings, mood, atmosphere
  • Procedural: skills, know-how


Read the full details of the workshop are here.

Students taking part

– 34 MBAs from Said Business School: a mixture of EMBAs (part time executive MBAs) and students on the full-time MBA

– 19 students taking the MDes Innovation and Creativity at London College of Communication, University of the Arts, led by Alison Prendiville

– and several MSc Environment Change & Management students from Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute

With input from the travel planning team from Oxfordshire County Council we situated the collaboration in a specific future context: reducing car usage in the Oxfordshire town of Bicester in 2015. Two design researchers from Samsung Design Europe joined us for the workshop. Consultancy Taylor Haig lent us their service design card deck to support the collaboration.

The brief

We asked students to focus on achieving a modal shift from car to sustainable travel, focusing on employed people who are car owners.  Their brief was: What prompts and interventions can you create within the service ecology to change the practices of employed people who are car owners, that result in them using their cars less often?

Over the workshop students used methods such as research into users’ practices, visualising the service ecology and creating service blueprints to propose new services that would reduce car usage.

Guest speakers at the workshop included Dan Lockton (Design with Intent blog), mobilities researcher Tim Schwanen (Transport Studies Unit, University of Oxford) and Chris Parker (Geovation at Ordnance Survey).


What the students created

A short film (4 minutes) presents some of the ideas the student teams generated. It offers a way to think about behaviour change in car usage that draws on ethnographic observations of everyday life, focusing on combinations of meaning and narrative, skills and know-how, emotions, and the artefacts and infrastructures involved.

Behave: New services to change travel behaviours from Lucy Kimbell on Vimeo.

The film and workshop were financially supported by Samsung Design Europe.


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