Written by G. John Cole

“I very rarely get pulled into the today,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos told Forbes in a 2018 interview. “I get to work two or three years into the future, and most of my leadership team has the same setup.”

You cannot predict the future, but it is essential to prepare to manage it. Since Bezos rose to the top, changes in user behavior and the impact of technology have created a business landscape that experts have labeled a VUCA environment: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.

How can companies thrive in this climate of uncertainty? Innovation. Creative leaders, capable of working as a team, are stepping up to adapt to a dynamic design culture, pairing imagination and critical thinking with soft skills and the capacity to strategize for the future.

Let’s take a look at the reasons why students should prioritize an innovative approach to design and design management -- and one school, IED Barcelona School of Design, leading the way in design innovation.

Career

Employers need designers who can specialize in one particular area – be it UI, UX, graphics, interaction, motion – but who understand the bigger picture and have the people skills to work with other specialists. They need someone not just to create, but to project: to design for a future we don’t yet know. In fact, a lot of the design specialisms that exist today were unheard of a few years ago. New entrants need to be prepared for new design roles and job titles that will emerge over the duration of their career.

Purpose

Design is never just about design. It's about the world in which the design will exist. 

Design doesn’t always require a tangible product, and innovation doesn’t require new technology. It’s about what the design does, and how it does it. Take the iPod for example; it didn't do much that previous MP3 players couldn't do. The design innovation was more about what the designers took away. In its simplicity, the iPod became synonymous with ‘MP3 player' – it also laid the groundwork for the iPhone.

But sometimes the purpose of design is less goal-orientated and more intrinsic to the design process itself. IED (Istituto Europeo di Design) says, “We encourage experimentation for the joy of experimentation. We see play as a fundamental part of innovation and we want to look at possibilities through the eyes of a child: creative, fun, messy exploration.”

Great design should feel surprising yet inevitable; novel, yet indispensable. Which brings us to…

Environmental design

You can’t look to the future of design without looking to the future of the planet. Today, it’s hardly an innovation to build your designs from recycled or renewable resources, nor to ensure that they are in turn recyclable. Today, ecologically innovative design takes place at an infrastructural level: how we work, who we work with. It means not saving the planet, but recognizing that we’re part of the planet.

Evolving principles

Urgent times require design not just with minimal impact, but reverse impact. Inventions, products, and processes that prevent waste and change the way users think and act require conceptualization beyond the choice of form and material. Approached as a design challenge, the climate catastrophe is as inspiring as it is desperate.

“If antiquities can boast of awe-inspiring temples that housed enduring empires and renaissance Europe, of grandiose baroque churches,” writes Angelique Moss on the question of green tech, “the generation today is compelled to move toward building the green and sustainable as it is faced with an environmentally deteriorating planet.”

An innovation-oriented design school

While traditional education models mark a clear line between a given discipline and the structure in which it functions, design training plays a fundamental role in generating a talent for management alongside creative and technical skills.

Academic institutions such as the IED Barcelona School of Design are committed to design education as a driving force for transformation. They balance a deep understanding of underlying business models against the careful consideration of the end-user. One prototype after another is developed until the product’s value and viability are assured, generating a new culture of innovation.

IED Barcelona explores this new vision of business management most particularly through its Master’s in Design Management. The program equips designers to balance risk against necessity, opportunity against uncertainty, in a highly competitive business environment.

The institution explains, “Design Management integrates innovation processes, multidisciplinary decision-making, a human-centered mindset and business strategies, to create effective products and services addressing the current landscape of the challenges the world faces today (such inclusion, sustainability and diversity) toward successful and meaningful companies.”

The Master's in Design Management equips designers with business skills, and business leaders with design principles, through expert-led research, practice, and the completion of a real-industry project commissioned by an international company. Students form teams so that designers and managers can learn from and complement each other ahead of a three-month internship and personal project. The course also includes two 3-to-5-day field trips to other European cities for the discovery and exchange of ideas.

Other innovative programs at IED include Master’s in Service Design and in Strategic Design, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. IED also offers a postgraduate course in Design for Innovation Strategy and summer courses focused on Design Thinking and Co-creation, Business Transformation, or Innovation and Future Thinking.

Thinking ahead

A prosperous future requires stable foundations and a keen understanding of the known and unknown challenges we face.

“Friends congratulate me after a quarterly-earnings announcement and say, 'Good job, great quarter,'” concludes Jeff Bezos in that Forbes interview with which we opened. “I'll say, 'Thank you, but that quarter was baked three years ago.' I'm working on a quarter that'll happen in 2021 right now.”  

What are you baking up for the next three years?

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