Master of Design Methods course begins this fall

May 2, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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A graduate degree in design methods offered by the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology will be taught in downtown Grand Rapids at GRid70 beginning this fall, and most of the 20 seats already are filled.

The Master of Design Methods is not for neophytes. Individuals seeking admission to the program “need to have a minimum of five years of having led an innovation project of some sort. It doesn’t have to be in design; it could be in law or marketing or engineering,” said Patrick Whitney, dean of the IIT Institute of Design, based in downtown Chicago.

Whitney said individuals who have completed the course can work in any part of a company “that needs innovation.” He added that he was not referring to technical innovation, but rather “human-centered” innovation, which involves “reframing problems” and not taking a problem “as a given, but finding more creative ways” of solving it.

“It’s going to be used mostly in the area of new product development and the development of new services. But it can be used in any part of the company,” he said. Whitney said no more than 20 students will be admitted to the course at a time, which will take 20 months to complete. Classes will be held on Friday and Saturday twice each month.

GRid70 stands for Grand Rapids Innovation Design at 70 Ionia, a four-story building owned and recently renovated by Rockford Construction. Much of the space is leased by Amway, Wolverine World Wide, Meijer and Steelcase and is occupied by employees from their corporate departments that are involved with creativity, design and innovation. The concept is to concentrate creative/innovative professionals from various types of businesses in one building where they can randomly help each other or collaborate in ways that might spontaneously yield product innovations that otherwise might not have happened.

Although Whitney said students in the graduate course do not have to be from the corporate tenants in GRid70, “most of the students have been admitted” already, and they include employees from Steelcase, Amway and Wolverine.

But Whitney stressed that the program is open to anyone who wants to apply. “They just have to meet our standards,” he added, noting that the IIT Institute of Design is “ranked the number one school in design in the country.” It was founded in 1937 as The New Bauhaus, with the intention of modernizing Chicago’s industrial and cultural base, according to the IIT website.

“We became part of IIT in 1949 and have been the leading school that integrates the creation of user value and the creation of financial value for companies. The poster child for (this concept) is Apple: Their products satisfy user needs before the users ask for those things.”

Whitney is dean and also the Steelcase/Robert C. Pew Professor of Design at the design institute, an endowed chair funded by the office furniture company. “Steelcase is our major corporate supporter, even before we come to Michigan,” said Whitney. Plans for GRid70 came to light a year ago when Wolverine World Wide CEO Blake Krueger and representatives of the other companies presented their plan at the Economics Club of Grand Rapids. Those executives said that talent thrives best in an urban setting and “needs to be clustered,” as Hank Meijer put it.

The GRid70 concept came out of an informal think tank of 30 area CEOs called the What’s Next Committee, who began meeting for lunch to talk about what might be the next big thing to boost the reputation of Grand Rapids as a creative and innovative place.

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