Management: Meet design, innovation

February 1, 2009
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Students pursuing MBA degrees from Ferris State University have several concentrations to choose from, the latest of which is a concentration in Design and Innovation Process Management through Kendall College of Art and Design.

Non-MBA-seeking Kendall students can pursue the concentration for a stand-alone certificate as long as they have a bachelor’s degree, said Shannon Yost, secretary of Ferris’ College of Business graduate programs.

Yost said the advanced certificate program has generated quite a bit of interest since its introduction in spring 2006. She said 23 students have completed the program and about 35 are currently enrolled.

“We’ve seen a lot of interest from art and design students as well as students in engineering, marketing, and even facilities management,” Yost said. “You don’t have to be an artsy student to pursue this certificate.”

Yost said the idea for the design and innovation management certificate sprang from a spate of articles in business newspapers and magazines such as Business Week and Forbes on design and innovation management.

“Our faculty is always very up to date on all the management issues and practices, and they took notice of that,” Yost recalled. “They mentioned it to the department head who in turn connected with Kendall faculty to ask what they thought about it. We did a curriculum proposal and it became one of the first advanced certificate programs of its kind in the nation.”

Angie Dow, chair of Kendall’s graphic design program, and Max Shangle, chair of Kendall’s furniture design program, jointly developed the 12-credit certificate program, which includes four three-credit courses in design and innovation process management, design communication management, sustainable design and systems management and leadership by design. 

“It’s about bringing people from business backgrounds and people from design backgrounds into the same classroom to help them understand the importance of design thinking, which is the creative process that designers go through to come up with ideas, and to teach them how to communicate and work together on ideas,” Dow said of the program.

Students work together as interdisciplinary groups to learn the reasons, tools, methods and metrics for communication and collaboration throughout the design thinking process. The sustainability course introduces the concept, innovative nature and strategic value of sustainable business systems and practices, as well as sustainable design. The leadership course explores the characteristics and values of innovative leaders and the effective work environment and organizational culture they can help create. Kendall capped the class size at 10 specifically to keep the group small, intimate and continually communicating.

Dow said designers as well as business people like the design and innovation management certificate program and that participation in it is about 50-50 on both sides. Some of the people with more traditional business backgrounds are looking for ways to work and communicate more effectively with the “right-brained” creative people in their organizations, and the creative types are looking for ways to enhance and expand upon their design backgrounds so they can apply some new skills in the business world.

“We’ve had nothing but positive feedback,” Dow said. “The feedback I’m getting from students is that they really appreciate being taught a new way of thinking: I think they feel really re-energized by it. Many are looking for a way to differentiate themselves within their companies or find new positions within their companies.

“The program has actually inspired quite a few students to change career directions and try something different.” 

Jeff Cummings graduated from Ferris’ professional golf management program in 1991. He returned to school to earn his MBA and chose the concentration in design and innovation process management. He completed the degree in December 2007. Cummings has been doing golf course operation consulting and thought that an MBA degree would give him an extra boost in his efforts to interest more clients in what he was trying to do, which was helping small to medium-size businesses become more operationally efficient, he said.

“I really liked the design and innovation management program because of its emphasis on collaboration: Good consulting is about collaborating with business owners, I think,” Cummings said. Innovation has been a buzz word for a long time, he added, and he keeps seeing innovative companies do well, even in difficult economic times like today.

“I just thought learning design thinking process would translate to any business, not just major corporations,” he said. “I was really interested in the sustainability component of the certificate program, too. Golf courses are not the greatest stewards of the earth in a lot of instances, and I wanted to learn more about sustainability techniques and what it means to golf courses. I think that’s the future for a lot of businesses.” 

Ann Erhardt was working in human resources for a large company and taking evening classes at Kendall when she heard about the design and innovation process management certificate program and signed up for the classes, which she completed two years ago. The program altered her perspective, she said.

“I started looking at solving problems in business more creatively and in a different manner,” Erhardt said. “When I hit the second to the last class — sustainable design — that really changed my view. That spoke to me on so many different levels, and made me aware of the lack of difference I was making at the job I was doing at the time.”  

The program inspired the Aquinas alum to return to Aquinas for a sustainable business degree while she continued to work toward a major in industrial design from Kendall. Upon completing both degrees, she hopes to get back into an H.R. role, but not in the traditional sense, she said.

“I’m really interested in the social capital aspect of human resources,” Erhardt said. “I tell people about the program all the time. I wish they had a complete master program in design and innovation management as opposed to just four classes. I refer to my work and readings from those classes all the time. It was an awesome experience.”

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