Monday, 20 October 2014

A case for design in business - Part 2

Another article I'll be examining for this essay is The Designer as Pathfinder: Design Education in the 21st Century by Naomi Gornick. This article focuses mostly on the changes design education will need to make to produce competitive workers for the evolving global market. However, it also speaks to the need for design education to include business thinking and the need for design management within companies.

Despite the increasing endorsement of of design by both corporations and consumers, there are still dilemmas. Gornick suggests four main topics that should be addressed:

  1. Design should be given an "optimum position" in organizations. What has yet to be determined is exactly what this position is and who is best fit to manage it. Designers must be given the skills to lead companies, and schools should teach "design management" (1).
  2. Design is finally achieving recognition from both corporations and the public. However, what they are praised for and recognized for does not truly reflect design's benefits. Media highlights well designed luxury products, but rarely identifies the moral benefits design has to offer (1).
  3. Design management is not prevalent enough within organizations. And the designers who have positions of power do not often enough use their positions to invoke change; instead taking an "anachronistic view of their range of responsibility" (1).
  4. Design education institutions have been encouraging isolationism among designer student. It fails to teach them how to properly integrate into the ever changing global market.

The articles continues by stating that the fourth dilemma can be considered a basis for the first three issues. Without a good foundation (education), countries will fail to produce workers (including designers) who can compete with rising competition from China and India. Education at all levels must prepare the future workforce for a market concerned with the environment, uncertain global politics, global economies, business ethics, demographic change and user collaboration (1). (Again, we see the need for collaboration - co-creation- to take place). Designers alone cannot tackle these issue, they must work collaboratively with experts from other fields, including business (1).

Design schools are already beginning to recognize the need for design beyond products. For example, the University of East London has begun to focus studies on context of design, product service systems and the environmental responsibility of the designer (1). Schools must prepare designers to be able to make a positive impact, businesses are seeking those that can make such an impact (2).  

Business practices must humanize (2-3). In order to achieve change, businesses must be flexible, understanding of the change and have strong self-management skills. The capitalist models of businesses sometimes lack the humanist characteristics needed for meaningful change and innovation. Rather, the businesses focus on producing goods and services with capabilities beyond what consumers would ever need or use. Designers can become swept up in this thinking, losing the ability to put deep reflective thought into the design community and the future of design (3). 

Management experts recognize the need for design thinking in businesses. Design consultancies have also recognized that they play a role in business; companies such as Ziba are moving towards management consultancies and using human-centered design tools & techniques to do the work.  They urge designer to "broaden it's sphere of responsibility." Designers in many companies are gaining higher positions (such as in Nokia), and they must use their positions to lead organizations in a positive direction. Businesses expect this from them (3). 

The economy itself is directly affected by design. This can be seen by rising nation's emphasis on design. Again and again, the article stresses the student must be prepared for this new economy and the current business climate. Designers must be able to fully integrate with businesses to be successful. Businesses and clients recognize that designers offer more than just quantitative outcomes and styling; designers offer problem solving skills and tools that will be the key to the success of a company (3-5).


Gornick, N. (2007). The Designer as Pathfinder: Design Education in the 21st Century. Eastman/IDSA International Education Conference. San Francisco: 8.

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