We recently added to our collection of design icons by purchasing a Fornasetti plate. The artist’s single minded obsession with the face of soprano singer  Lina Cavalieri, really got me thinking about what I do. While Fornasetti dedicated his life to being an expert of a singular object and developing variations of it, as a service designer my job is to understand and work with multiple objects and variants. Like Lina Cavalieri’s various avataars, designers have many to play many roles and the most recent one being- the business designer.

As a service designer, I have to work closely with businesses to help develop new ideas and services or innovate upon existing ones. In order to do that, it’s essential for me (or any service designer) to understand how businesses work, what their model is, how the organization is structured and how we add value through design thinking.

Service design (or what I usually call, just plain old proper design thinking) has been around since the 90’s and has gathered a lot of momentum in the last decade, resulting in a large number of businesses (small or large) keen on understanding how it can help innovate and grow. Needless to say, several universities all over the world have realized the need for designers to understand business and set up Business Design courses or Design MBA’s.

CCA (California College of Arts) pioneered this programme, closely followed by the academically inclined John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Universities, especially in America, Singapore and England (York) have followed suit- offering MBA’s tailored specially for designers.

I think any designer keen on setting up his or her own business or working with businesses would greatly benefit from this. However, is that the perception of the industry?

Speaking to a friend, a business head of a leading telecommunication company in the emerging markets- a man with an MBA himself- he felt very differently. He said that when he hires or works with designers he expects them to be experts in their field. A designer with an MBA would confuse the industry- why did this designer stop his/her practice to do an MBA for 2 years? Did they lose interest in design? Where does their expertise really lie? Traditional view of design? Or is it a view of a realist and a reflection of the industry as it exists today.

Having said that, consultancies like Fjord, Adaptive Path and IDEO are all advertising to hire business designers. Is the emergence of a business designer going to make us better designers or add to the growing cult of ‘jack of all design’ much like another face of Lina Cavalieri.


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