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I had the pleasure of co-leading a workshop at the recent AIGA Gain Conference in NYC along with the amazing Mateo Neri. As promised, here are some references related to the remarkably rich and dynamic discussion we had that day—special thanks to all in attendance for your great contributions!

3 Books:

  1. The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
  2. The Design Entrepreneur by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico
  3. Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

3 Blogs:

  1. AVC: Musings of a VC in NYC by Fred Wilson
  2. 30 Second MBA on FastCompany.com
  3. The New Entrepreneur on BusinessWeek.com

3 Twitter “Follows:”

  1. @VentureHacks
  2. @HelenWalters
  3. @ProjectM

3 Random Resources

  1. Startup Weekend
  2. Kickstarter.com
  3. BPC: Biz Plan Competitions

I met designer Keenan Cummings recently at the SVA MFA Interaction Design Dot Dot Dot event and we’ve carried on an email dialogue since then. We both have a connection to the Johnson & Johnson Global Strategic Design Office, but our conversation has quickly jumped beyond that common ground and into some really intriguing ideas about how and why designers work the way we do. The conversation began with a post Keenan published on his Field Study blog entitled “Maintaining Inexperience” in which he writes “some work environments have become expert at learning and repeating unoriginal, decontextualized solutions called precedent (‘This is the way it’s always been done…’).” In his post Keenan ponders how designers can stay fresh despite the relentless pressure to crank out solutions in an efficient manner. I found his thinking to be in parallel with my own thoughts about how we as designers run our businesses—that too often we find ourselves on “autopilot,” not really understanding why we are working within a certain model.

You can find Keenan’s “Maintaining Inexperience” post on Field Study by clicking here. And below is an extension of our dialogue on the topic. Read the rest of this entry »

My apologies if it seems like I am continually geeking out on the MFA program at School of Visual Arts, but here I go again. I just received an announcement of a new summer program that seems perfectly timed for the current climate of economic, political, and cultural discord. Impact! Design for Social Change is a six-week summer intensive that will introduce participants to the growing field of design for social advocacy. Coming on the heels of the Aspen Design Summit last fall, and other programs with a similar agenda, this seems particularly relevant.

The program—co-founded by Steven Heller, Co-chair, SVA MFA Design and Mark Randall, partner at NY-based Worldstudio, will send participants through two parallel tracks; the first will focus on how to conceive and execute their own projects for social change with an emphasis on funding projects that are not client-based, and in the second track students will participate in the development and full execution of a team project that addresses a pressing need within a predetermined community.

A program with a more established track record is the AIGA Business Perspectives for Design Leaders at the Yale School of Management. This week-long program, which was held at Harvard for a number of years (including 2007, when I attended), is a truly lens-changing experience. For me, it provided a much deep and complete understanding of what it takes to run a business, from strategy to marketing, finances to operations, even ethics. One of the hidden benefits to the Yale program is the personal and professional connections that are forged through the experience. In the case of our ’07 class, I walked away with a vastly expanded network filled with relationships that I’ve leveraged many times since—our class is still very much connected. Be prepared, though, this is truly an intensive experience with high expectations for reading and class preparation that took many of us by surprise.

The Stanford D School, aka the Institute of Design at Stanford has been a pioneer in design thinking curriculum over the last decade. They are promoting Design Thinking Boot Camp: From Insights to Innovation, a three-day program that appears to be directed toward non-design executives who are seeking an immersion into the design thinking process.

Please add your suggestions if I’ve missed any noteworthy programs.

Picture 21As 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.

bwlogo_255x54Here’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.

I must admit that the term Designer as Author has always perplexed me. It gets thrown around quite a bit in our profession when describing entrepreneurial activities of designers (see the Designer as Author MFA program at SVA). Of course, there are many designers who are authors (the kind that write books, that is), but how does that term translate to new business ventures?

Thanks to Ellen Lupton, now I understand.

Lupton, the designer, educator, and author (of books, including Thinking With Type) recently gave an enlightening presentation at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, as part of the Walker/AIGA Minnesota Insights series, in which she traced the history of this term back to Rick Poynor’s 1991 article in BluePrint magazine entitled, The Designer as Author. She expanded my understanding of the term “author” to include not just the written word, but the development of content. The transformation of designers from their traditional role of crafting the form of a message, to impacting—and eventually creating—the message itself, is, after all, at the core of what this blog is all about.

The video below is a short preview of Ellen Lupton’s presentation. You can find the full lecture at the Walker’s fantastic website or on iTunes U. The Walker should be commended for bringing their content to the masses in such an open and accessible way—the iTunes U outlet has an amazing catalog including past design lectures by Ed Fella and Experimental Jetset.

logoWere I living in New York (and not about to put my own kids through college), I would love to enroll in the SVA MFA Designer as Author program. Steven Heller (who really needs to pick up the pace a bit) and Lita Talarico co-chair the program. The duo also recently published The Design Entrepreneur (which features a section on Type1Tools and HealthSimple).book22

In the meantime, you can “sit in” on SVA lectures by some of the great designers of our time via their excellent podcast series.

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