There is a never ending stream of news about Bschools. For a change, Businessweek.com turns the spotlight on the world's top Dschools ie institutes which teach design.
Although the schools listed are predominantly American, there is healthy international representation. Among institutes of repute from England, Netherlands, Germany, Italy and China, India too gets two well deserved mentions - NID and IDC.
Both deserve to be right up there because they are amazing institutions which have produced some outstanding graduates. I only wish there were more like them! Because there is a huge difference between 'design' and 'art'. In India, we often confuse the two.
Those who study commercial art are basically trained to work in advertising/ media. So they produce campaigns, make artworks, learn typography/ photography/ illustration. Yes, they are talented and creative. But within a given framework.
Design graduates, on the other hand, approach their work differently.
A few years ago, two NID students worked on a project to redesign JAM magazine. For them, the issue was not about tweaking the logo, changing the template and a few fonts. They looked at the magazine at a more fundamental level. From the customer's point of view.
Of course, not all their suggestions could be implemented. But the thinking that went behind the re-design they attempted was remarkable.
The point I am making is that even as b schools proliferate, the need of the hour is D schools. As customers become more demanding, and constantly seek something new and exciting, the importance of product design cannot be over emphasised.
Take the ipod - it's not just a pretty gadget. The clickwheel is a fundamental design choice, one which defines the brand. No, a design genius at Apple did not invent it - someone at a company called Synaptics working for Apple did.
But, you get the idea. Design is mega important. And good design is not just about looks. That's styling. Great design is good looking and provides a better user experience.
Well, the corporate world is realising that the design and business functions need to collaborate at an early stage of the product development cycle. One fallout of this is increased interaction between bschools and dschools.
A course called Strategy for Product and Service Development has been introduced at INSEAD in collaboration with design students from the Art Center in Pasadena . As INSEAD graduate Sameer Agrawal, who now works with GE, recalls
At the start of the class we had to decide what to work on. Each of us had a minute to pitch an idea to develop. You could see the difference.
MBA pitches dwelt on the market: how big it was, how little it had been served. Most designers said: "Here is how I use the product today. Here is why it sucks and how it can be better. Here's how I want to do it.
His perception of designers was: "Here's my product, make it look sexy". Now, he sees see design as "a philosophy that people learn in order to understand how products are used..."
Similarly, Mozilla was searching for a way to make Firefox more popular. The company's 's business development team turned to Stanford University. Not to the bschool but Hasso Plattner Institute of Design on the campus.
The course was team-taught by Stanford profs and industry professionals. Each student worked in a team that included a B-schooler, a computer science major, and a product designer. And each team used design thinking to shape a business plan for Mozilla.
Apparently, it made a big difference.
A B-school class would have started with a focus on market size and used financial analysis to understand it. This D-school class began with consumers and used ethnography, the latest management tool, to learn about them. Business school students would have developed a single new product to sell.
The D-schoolers aimed at creating a prototype with possible features that might appeal to consumers. B-school students would have stopped when they completed the first good product idea. The D-schoolers went back again and again to come up with a panoply of possible winners.
Businessweek notes that the power of this new approach, called design thinking, to promote innovation and open up business opportunities is attracting the
attention of corporations around the globe.
Design has evolved from a narrow discipline dealing with the form and function of products into a major new approach to developing business models. As business increasingly turns to India and China to provide low-cost, high-quality goods and services, companies have to focus on innovation to be competitive.
That driving need makes design thinking the hottest trend in business culture today. If engineering, control, and technology were once the central tenets of business culture, then anthropology, creativity, and an obsession with consumers' unmet needs will inform the future.
The bottom line is, India needs more D schools. A great D school is multi disciplinary - combining engineering, business, design, and social sciences. And hence IITs are ideally placed to house design schools on campus. But while we've seen Schools of Management spring up at all IIT campuses, design has flourished only at IIT B.
IIT Guwahati is the only other IIT with a design school, others have been contemplated starting one but not taken the plunge.
Then there are recent institutes such as Srishti School of Art and Design in Bangalore. But the school, although well reputed, is not considered in the NID/ IDC league.
Although industry does flock to NID and IDC, for some reason, the contribution of these graduates remains underhyped. Bet you can name a dozen IIT or IIM grads but only a couple from NID - if at all. And none from IDC. Is it lack of PR, or humility.
Or a potent combo of both?
Maybe we'll wake up when some foreign company swoops down on NID and offers a $100,000 salary. Actually, salaries are going up... but unfortunately the idea of design as a career will never really catch the fancy of the media. Or the general public.
That's because unlike the MBA - you need to possess something tangible for a design education. That something rare and elusive called 'Talent'.