As a student at the Institute of Design, you are surrounded by others, including students, professors, administrators, and visiting lecturers, who know and have witnessed the power of design methods and strategies. In other words, you are surrounded by believers. But upon graduation, not everyone understands or values the process that was implicit at ID, especially if you find work outside of a design consultancy. In a post-ID career, you often find yourself in the position to teach and advocate for the process. This is a theme that came up last month when I interviewed Chris Finlay, who graduated with a dual degree MBA/MDes in 2008.
Champion your Method
When I asked what surprised Finlay about joining the workforce after graduation, he talked about his experience starting a company. When Chris graduated in 2008, ID had a senior thesis project called demo. Finlay worked with real clients during demo, doing real consulting work, and gained a lot of confidence. But when he graduated and starting running his business, he didn’t have anyone to rely on except himself. “I didn’t have any longitudinal results,” said Finlay. “I hadn’t had the experience of seeing the research, design, and implementation process go through and come out 1-2 years later.” The proven results of his insights hadn’t come yet. This is inherently true after graduation - there won’t be a foundation of many years of experience to stand upon. And since Chris was working for himself, his personal foundation was all that he had.
Another part of running his agency was championing the human centered design process that he had learned. And, he said, this can be true working with a lot of clients. Human centered design is a fairly recent approach to innovation. “Innovation is where quality management was 40 years ago. Innovation is still just starting to be picked up in a really meaningful way, and the tools are still pretty rudimentary,” said Chris. “We are trying to make magic by understanding people, but we are still in the beginning of understanding how to deliver the full impact of this approach.” This year’s FastCompany Innovation by Design Issue supported this view. In an article titled “10 Lessons for Design-Driven Success”, lesson number ten is literally called “It is Still Day One.” The editor writes that although it may seem like we as designers have come a long way, “the design revolution is only at its dawn.” Since human centered design is still unfamiliar to so many people, becoming an advocate for it is useful in any space using the process - not just running an agency.
Become a Native Speaker
Regardless of where we are in the revolutions of design, user-centered design, or innovation planning, one thing is clear: not everyone knows about the value of these methods, even if FastCompany has an annual issue dedicated to them. However, many are familiar with the value of an MBA. As a current dual degree student, I am curious how graduates of this program have benefitted from having both degrees: MDes + MBA, so I asked Chris about his personal experience.
Finlay describes how his MBA has empowered him to better convey his ideas by understanding the business side of design, increasing “the level of responsibility you want to take for putting your ideas forward.” He continued, “Suppose that you are communicating with somebody from supply chain management. You lose value if you assume that the supply chain management people will translate your ideas... they will get morphed. Your ideas will get generalized. You need to translate your ideas into their speak. That goes for every specialty.” I can understand that. It is similar to the truism that reading a translation is not the same as reading the original. Although graduates of both degrees become business people, there are intricacies of jargon that are useful from both degrees, and it can be extremely advantageous to be “bilingual.”
Becoming an Advocate
During the Institute of Design’s semiannual recruiting event, several of the recruiters I spoke with were alumni of ID. They mentioned that their current role is to disseminate human centered design methods into their organizations. It seems that this is not uncommon for graduates. You will inevitably work with people who don’t share or don’t believe in your way of thinking. It’s not uncommon for recruiters to be hiring you as an ally in their own crusade to change an organization from within. The ability to passionately convey and defend the power of what we learn at ID after graduation is an extremely valuable skill. Current students take note—you’re not just training to become a designer, you must become an advocate and a teacher as well.
There is something else here though - a thread that runs through both of the ideas that graduates need to be prepared to advocate for and teach human centered design, and that the MBA is useful for translating design ideas into business terminology. The thread is the valuable skill of clear articulation and explanation of ideas. Well, that’s not exactly the revelation of the century, but still a key insight to remember again and again. As they said at Trader Joe’s management training (where I worked for 8 years) “message sent does not equal message received.” Just because you say something, does not mean that people understand what you are trying to convey.
Is the message in this post being received? Comments are welcome. -Irene
After graduating with a Master of Design and a Master of Business Administration from Illinois Institute of Technology in 2008, Chris Finlay has accomplished an impressive amount. He currently serves as the Director of Experience Design and Innovation at United Health Group. Prior to that position, he was CEO for Otabo Inc., and Design Director at Business Innovation Factory. His new book, pictured at left, is now available. You can visit his website here.