Design Thinking: Making D-School the New B-School

28 July 2016, By , 308 views

One of the most exciting aspects of my job is interacting with design aspirants. I love their enthusiasm and their curiosity about design and the possibilities it offers. Several of these students come from a science or commerce background and almost decided to study engineering or management but changed their minds in the nick of time, because they want to be designers.

An engineering degree followed by an MBA is often seen as a ticket to a lucrative and secure career option in a country of 1.25 billion, with the largest youth population in the world!  (not joking!..read this UN report ‘The power of 1.8 billion’)

In fact, we all know at least one person in our friend and family circle who has an engineering degree and/or an MBA and got placed in a multi-national at a 7-figure ‘package!’. No doubt, many have prospered with this career choice. However, one must consider these statistics as well:

  • According to National Employability Report 2015-16, India had more than 1.5 lac engineering graduates in 2015, out of which only 20% were employable. 
  • Out of more than 3 lac MBA graduates that came out in 2014-15, only 11-12% were employable (Data was taken from this article).

Design-thinking-stats-IIAD

The reason for this is that many employers and educators find that there is a significant ‘skill-gap’ in most engineering and B-school graduates making them an expensive and risky proposition for the organization to train and ‘upskill.’

So why is this relevant to an aspiring designer?

It is relevant because the technological and cultural environment is rapidly changing. Design has become a part of the tools and technologies that we use in everyday life. There is a need for dynamic professionals who are creative thinkers and problem solvers, with hands-on practical training. This has compelled companies to source young professionals from multi-disciplinary backgrounds that can offer new ideas to come up with products/services and experiences that delight the customers. In fact, many engineering colleges are also on the verge of launching design programmes to meet this industry demand for designers.

Technology giants and even start-ups are not just looking to hire from the top engineering colleges or B-schools but are also looking for designers at D-schools (design schools).  Companies like Urbanladder, Pepperfry, Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Makemytrip, and Jabong, are all scampering to get good designers on board. In fact, technology giants are even offering salaries that are up to 50% higher than what is being paid to engineers

By hiring professionals who think DESIGN, companies save on the time, effort and investment that goes into training engineers/MBAs just to bring them up to speed with what a good designer already knows.

Why this change?

Thomas J. Watson, Jr., the 2nd president of IBM, in a lecture at the Wharton Business School in 1973 proclaimed that “Good Design is Good Business.” What may have seemed like a progressive ahead-of-its-times statement then, has become the norm for businesses today.

Design is at the core of conceiving new ideas and realizing them. In fact, good design has now become the main differentiator for companies. Design is not only essential to conceptualizing an idea, but also to crafting the end-user experience. The way consumers interact with a product or service, physically or virtually, is essentially a design forté and not just an aspect of management or technology. Good design helps organizations gain customers and retain them. An excellent example of this approach is Apple, whose iPhone has a cult following across the world. A quote from Steve Jobs sums it up rather nicely:

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs

Design is no longer only concerned with craft, aesthetics, form and functionality or simply creating beautiful objects and images to serve a purpose. Design has expanded in scope and has become synonymous with Design Thinking.

Design thinking is a creative way of finding solutions to problems. It is a way of approaching situations, questions, problems or challenges from a design perspective to create better products, systems, and communities. A designer uses logic, imagination, lateral thinking, systemic analysis, psychology, anthropology, technology, ergonomics, science and intuition to come up with innovative and desirable solutions for the client, customer or end-user.

Government agencies, corporations and, NGOs, all use the services of design thinkers to solve complex problems. In this scheme of things, designers are not just technical experts but thinkers and problem solvers. In management speak, they are like “strategy consultants” who can look at a situation unlike anybody else and offer solutions that nobody else can. From environment and cost-friendly toilets in rural India to Starbucks’ ‘Concept Cafes’ to Google’s new modular phone with customisable parts, design-thinking offers creative solutions to make our lives better.

Having said that, it is essential that good design education evolves with this change in the definition of design. A student can only become a good design thinker if s/he is challenged to think and create. It also means that a designer has to have a multi-disciplinary knowledge of contexts, technologies, and techniques that affect their design skills. Most importantly, there has to be significant skill-development and a concerted and consistent focus on “application based” and “process-oriented” training. A good designer shouldn’t just be good at the theory of design but must know how to think and make good design. Those who are in the business of grooming aspiring designers must be mindful of this evolving definition of design and what the world needs from the next generation of designers and design thinkers.

Design education, thus, needs to be flexible and dynamic in its scope and pedagogy to address and even pre-empt the changing needs of people/society at large. IIAD’s teaching and learning philosophy is based on this tenet. We aim to underscore and amplify the role of design thinking in the areas of  communication design, fashion design, interior architecture and design, and hopefully other important design disciplines in the years to come.

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