34 MBA + executive MBA students (summer elective)

Project: Designing services to change travel behaviours

Collaborators: MDes students from London College of Communication, MSc Environment Change and Management, Oxfordshire County Council, Samsung Design Europe

Guest speakers: Dan Lockton (Design with Intent), Tim Schwanen (Transport Studies Unit), Chris Parker (Ordnance Survey)

After five years of teaching a course in Design Leadership, I renamed the elective Designing Better Futures. I did this to focus the course towards many students’, and my own, interest in and commitment towards working towards more sustainable futures. However the elective is still relevant to commercially-minded MBAs who want to understand what a design-based approach to innovation and change can bring to organisations.

Over half of the elective was delivered via a two-day collaborative workshop involving 55 students and several collaborators. This aimed to use methods and tools from experience-based design to propose new service concepts to reduce car usage. This is discussed in detail here, including a four-minute video showing some of the students’ service concepts.

The rest of this page describes what the rest of the elective covered.

Aims of elective

At the end of this course, students should be able to:

1.Identify the contribution that design and design management can make to realising strategy, creating competitive advantage and dealing with contemporary problems;

2.Apply design approaches and design management frameworks to organizational domains such as strategy, operations, product development and innovation management;

3.Apply relevant methods, tools and techniques from design and design management to support product and service development and innovation processes.

Session 1.1

Introduction to design/Designs-in-practice 

What’s a good design? Sociologists and anthropologists have shown that how people use things in practice may challenge or undermine the intentions of designers. Good design is not in the eye of the beholder but rather achieved through complex negotiations involving many people and artefacts. As non-professional “designers” who adapt or adopt artefacts in their day to day practices, people – whether called users, stakeholders, or something else – play important roles in constituting what we mean by designs-in-practice. Further, a wider network or ecology of people and other artefacts help us interpret what constitutes “good” design and what new designs mean to us. In this session we will explore design from our perspective as expert end users. To develop your design literacy, we will undertake a critique of design at the school, and then use this analysis as the basis for generating briefs for making improvements to some of its artefacts.

Practical activity: Critique of design at Said Business School


Session 1.2

Designing interactions, experiences, services, and systems

Product design emerged with industrialisation in the late 19th and 20th centuries. New design disciplines that focus on the design of interactions, interfaces, experiences and services have emerged in the past 20 years. Design theorists and practitioners argue that organizations should stop thinking about discrete products and services, and be attentive to the design of customer experiences at each ‘touchpoint’ with an organization and see end users as co-creating value through their day-to-day practices. 

Some involve end users in the design and development process – participative design. Meanwhile the global challenges of sustainability mean that design and design management have an important role to play in reducing the environmental impact of products and services and thinking about the economic challenges facing many communities. Some designers now see their role as helping organisations opportunities for dialogues with stakeholders facing “wicked” problems. So understanding people, what they do, how, and why, has become central to design, which means that interpreting marketing and ethnographic research and turning it into insights and new concepts is an important challenge.

Practical activity: Visual analysis service experiences

Session 2

Design thinking (or what designers do)

This session offers a chance to consider and discuss what is distinctive about what designers do, how they do it, and the sorts of artefact they create along the way – what is sometimes called “design thinking” or “designerly ways of knowing”. Studying the research into designers’ work practices will demystify the creative design process and offer students insights about what to expect when products and services are designed by or with professional designers. But the term “design thinking” has limitations – although it claims to be user-centred, it nonetheless privileges the designer as the key agent in design and it ignores how different designers’ specialist work practices are. The elective offers students a way to understand that design is not just about what designers do, but also about what stakeholders, users and artefacts themselves do in constituting designs. 

Practical activity: analysis of designers practices; extreme users exercise

Session 3.1

Managing design: Getting value from design practices

Successful firms approach design in different ways. Some see design as about styling and adding value to products, others use design as a way to generate innovative ideas to make proposals about what things mean. For others, design is about problem-solving once an issue has been identified. For others, design practices such as close observation of end users and visual methods enable a firm to explore an ill-defined space. For others, user-centred design is useful for incremental but not radical innovation. Key to effective design management is knowing which design approach is right for the organization or project and arranging resources to support and enable it.

We will go through a video case studying how service/experience-based design has been used successfully to differentiate Virgin Atlantic Airways. Finally, we will consider how to evaluate the performance of design with organizations. In what ways it is possible to talk about the effectiveness of design processes and outcomes?

Practical activity: create a project plan to manage a specific design

Session 3.2

Organising as designing?

Building on criticisms of management (and management education) as dominated by techno-rationalism, scholars and educators have begun to look to designers and to design as ways to rethink management and leadership and have begun attending to aesthetics in organizational life. The writers claim that the ways of thinking, generating ideas and exploring possibilities embedded in design and art practices offer ways of inventing alternatives for organizations, rather than selecting between options. Not only relevant to commercial business, these approaches can also be introduced in public sector organizations and within social entrepreneurship.