Top 3 MBA in Design Strategy & Leadership

Top Design MBA Programs
Our research has introduced us to some Business Schools that offer Design MBAs in Strategy, Thinking, Leadership, and Innovation. Let us look at their curriculum and see how they incorporate design thinking throughout the program.

1) MBA in Design Strategy – California College of the Arts (CCA)

The spring class introduces students to traditional courses that are seen in an MBA program like Brand Strategy, Business Law & Negotiation, Business Models & Stakeholder, Capital & Markets and Strategic Management. What makes this MBA in Design Strategy curriculum different is the focus on design right from the start with courses like Leadership by Design that focuses on leading in an Entrepreneurial and Intrapreneurial environment with creative brainstorming, evaluating business opportunities, and effective communication with all stakeholders. Students are oriented towards action with courses like Market Insight Studio, Strategic Foresight, Sustainability Studio, and Venture Studio.

The key skill that you observe in inventors and innovators is the ability to see the future. CCU has tried to incorporate this skill with Strategic Foresight, which gives the tools to look into the future (5-50 years) and explore the various directions in which the society can maneuver with the changing technologies and how to develop strategic responses.
Another important aspect of Design Strategy is sustainability. Although it is hard to find companies that have adopted sustainability over profitability, long-term profitability of a Business will depend on sustainability. The sustainability studio course will give an in-depth view on various frameworks and approaches for sustainable development. Students will redefine solutions based on sustainability.

Once students have completed the courses and studio in the spring session, the final Venture Studio will allow students to integrate all that they have learned into a thesis project. The purpose of the project is to incorporate all the goals of the program: design innovation, product/service/experience integration, meaningful application for customers; market competition; financial viability; and financial, social, and environmental sustainability.

During the Fall, the program covers traditional MBA courses: Brand Strategy, Capital & Markets, Financial & Managerial Acct, Managerial Economics, Managerial Finance and Operations & Systems. It also ventures into the design aspect of the MBA with Experiences Studio, Innovation Studio, Live Exchange and Strategic Foresight.

The Experience Studio gives hands on lessons on the development of processes for product and service experiences. Students will learn to collaborate in research, development, and presentation of solution.

The Innovation studio is another studio course that gives students the opportunity to put into practice the theories of innovation and user-centric design principles. Students are introduced to tools and approaches that will help them present their solutions holistically. The course incorporates one new domain every semester that are challenging and is on the verge of a systemic change.

2) Stanford University's d.school

Although Stanford’s d-school does not award any degree, it was founded with design thinking in mind. The school incorporates the principles of rapid prototyping and testing for potential solutions. Instead of focus groups, the team uses feedback about the product/service user experience for further iteration.

The advantage of d.school is that it brings Stanford students from engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education under one group and creates a creative problem-solving framework for any challenge.

The school leans on action oriented learning and collaboration. Implementation of design thinking require techniques that bridges the methods used in engineering and design, with creative ideas from arts, tools and methodologies used in social sciences and market testing from the Business world. The implementation involves iteration of a wide range of possible solutions, prototyping, testing, and feedback from people. With each iteration, new improved solutions are developed that takes the team closer to an innovation.

The real world problems that d-school students
are exposed to can be that of non-profit, corporate or government organization. Recently, students have worked with Visa, Teach For America, JetBlue, White Mountain Apache Tribe, Gates Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, PepsiCo, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, The Girl Scouts, Proctor&Gamble, General Electric, NewSchools Venture Fund, The City of Mountain View and Palo Alto, Electronic Arts, Stanford Trauma Center, Motorola, Google and WNYC public radio. The project duration can range from a couple of hours to 10-week class project.

3) Johns Hopkins Carey Business School M.B.A./M.A. in Design Leadership

In November 2012, The Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) announced a new M.B.A./M.A. in Design Leadership, which will begin in the fall of 2013. MBA in Design Leadership teaches students to develop creative approaches in decision-making and to implement them in a complex Business scenario.
Students get the chance to take traditional MBA courses in Accounting & Financial Reporting, Statistical Analysis, Leadership Ethics Seminar, Business Communication, Corporate Finance, Customer Focused Marketing, Economics for Decision Making, Information Systems, Operations Management, Strategic Management, and Negotiation.

The courses conducted by MICA
are oriented towards design leadership with courses like Foundations of Design Leadership, Creativity and Innovation, Collaboration, Interdisciplinary, and Multidisciplinary, Cultural Relevance & Awareness, Forecasting and Realization, Visualization & Prototyping, and Sustainability & Social Responsibility.
Foundation of Design Leadership course in this dual degree program is similar to that of CCA, with emphasis on providing tools and principles for creative solutions.

Creativity and Innovation
is a course that encourages students to take risk, increase tolerance for ambiguity, and develop abductive thinking. The processes for design solutions involve exploring several processes, testing the assumptions and using iterative development to reach solutions that can be completely different from the initial plan.

Mass Adoption of a product or service in different geographies depends on cultural awareness. The Cultural Relevance and Awareness course teaches students to change product design according to changing target groups. Instead of looking for universal design principles, this course forces students to think about principles of cultural variance and Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), and design approaches that are inclusive of consumers from various ages, abilities, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
As we had discussed earlier, Sustainability is a key aspect of Design thinking.

The MBA in Design Leadership
trains students to think about Sustainability through the course: Sustainability and Social Responsiveness. The courses offer methods of designs that are centered on community collaboration, social, political and economic factors. The strategies developed as part of the course uses non-toxic, sustainable, or recycled products. Design concepts that have considered carbon footprint, product longevity and energy efficiency are adopted.

Although critics might argue that an MBA in Design is a leverage that schools are using to compete against well-established MBA programs, the curriculum, learning experience and teaching methodologies show a clear difference in approach from a traditional MBA program.

Recommended Reads

1) MBA in Design Strategy – California College of the Arts (CCA)
2) Stanford University's d.school
3) Johns Hopkins Carey Business School M.B.A./M.A. in Design Leadership

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