21 August 2012
Jesse Grimes
Jesse Grimes

Designers in suits: Richard Buchanan

If you wanted to instill “design thinking” into today’s organizations, integrating it into a design school curriculum might seem like a good start. But Richard Buchanan made a more astute choice, leaving a design school to teach at a management school, and ensuring that MBA students leave with a truly innovative perspective.

This is the third post in a series of “Designers in suits”. Previous: Tim Brown.

Currently, Richard is a Professor of Design, Management and Information Systems at Weatherhead School of Management (part of Case Western Reserve University). But prior to his joining CWRU, he spent 16 years at Carnegie Mellon, where he was both the Head of the School of Design, and Director of their doctoral studies program. While there, he oversaw the graduate program in Interaction Design.

As he explains it, he saw that interaction design was only part of the solution to creating better experiences; effort was needed in other disciplines as well. The Weatherhead school – which had invited him to join its faculty years ago – became the answer. By focusing on design and sustainability in an environment which educates tomorrow’s business leaders and managers, he saw that he could bring in a design sensibility where it mattered most.

In this excerpt from a talk he gave at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2010, he describes arriving at the decision to make this move:

“The more I worked with interaction, the more I realized I was not concerned simply with the interaction of one person and one person; individual interactions. I became increasingly interested in collective interactions. How we interact groups, in communities, in organizations. So in fact, one of the last courses I created at Carnegie Mellon was called ‘Design, Management and Organizational Change’. And it came about for this reason: we had a group of students who developed an excellent idea for the city of Pittsburgh. It was terrific. Wonderful work. They went down to city hall and they presented their work. The city council thought it was wonderful. The president of the council, everyone applauded ‘just great stuff; come out of lunch with us.’… But the president of the council leaned over to the students, to one student at one point and said ‘you know, this is really a great project, but you know it’ll never get built. We’ll never implement it.’ The student was shocked. Stunned.

How do you do brilliant work and not have an impact in the world? Well, the students came back and told the story. And as I began to understand what had happened I realized that we needed to do more for the students to prepare them to interact effectively in organizations. Hence the course that I taught — which by the way is probably a better MBA course than they have in most business schools. You should see the reading list. When I show it to my colleagues and other business schools their jaws drop. Designers can read that and understand it? You bet your life they can.”

So what makes the Weatherhead program unique – alongside Richard’s involvement – is that it’s not populated solely by university graduates with business degrees who are looking for an MBA to add shine to their CV. More than a third of students come from a design background, and have chosen to pursue an advanced degree so that they can learn design thinking with a business and management perspective.

Here are links to further articles and talks:

Lecture at SCAD 2010: “Design Entrepreneurship: The Convergence of Design and Management

Lecture at interactionELEVEN 2011 (IxDA): “Keynote

Lecture at Service Design Network Conference 2011: “Service Design as Social Communication: Residual, Dominant, and Emergent Practices

CWRU Weatherhead School of Management program website

Journal “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” Pdf icon botw (Design Issues, Spring 1992)

The author

Jesse Grimes is an editor of Touchpoint, and has twelve years experience as an interaction designer and consultant, now specialising in service design. He has worked in London, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf and Sydney, and is now based in The Netherlands with Dutch design agency Informaat.

Business processes (14), Design (17), Design thinking (15), Service design (41)

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