Design management up for scrutiny at MDMN event

’Design management is evolving,’ according to Professor Naomi Gornick, who is throwing a symposium on the subject on Friday.

The event, which is going ahead, was planned as an adjunct to the Design Management Institute’s Transforming Design conference, which has been postponed due to the current flight ban in the UK. Gornick is project consultant for the event’s organising body Metamorphosis of Design Management Network.

’Design managers are a bridge between designers and a company’s management, speaking the languages of both design and business, and translating each to the other,’ explains Gornick (pictured). Designers know these people in the form of marketing managers, heads of innovation and new product development managers.

As such roles proliferate in business and gain ground in the public sector, there are increasingly high expectations of what design managers can achieve, but also disconnects that require fixing if they are to achieve their potential.

This week’s event, 21st Century Contexts for Design Management, will feature workshops and presentations addressing the emergent trends in the sector. MDMN recently won funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, boosting the status of design management as a specialist field.

Gornick anticipates that with seven of the nine speakers at the event being university professors and researchers, a subject likely to arise is design management education. Buro Happold’s global head of marketing Tom Foulkes (pictured) is not attending, but was a prominent design manager in his previous role at Land Securities. He pinpoints education as a hot topic in the field.

’I always found it depressing when studying at university that I never had an opportunity to work with a creative department. Why weren’t those studying marketing, who were going to become commissioning designers, working with the design students?’ says Foulkes, who understands that the situation remains largely unchanged.

While she agrees that it is an important issue, Gornick believes that ’there is much more co-operation now between design schools and business schools than there used to be.’ She names collaborations between the Royal College of Art and Imperial College Business School, and London College of Communications and Cranfield University.

Speaker James Woudhuysen, Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at De Montfort University, will argue that design managers require education in science and technology, not just marketing.

He says, ’Design can be so patronising, preaching through a brand and telling us how to behave, adding colour to some logo to tell us we’re not eco-friendly enough. Aesthetics is fine, but it needs to be accompanied by a fondness for the grandeur and romance of technology. That way, we can find ways not to have to reduce energy consumption, so that we can start talking about something more interesting instead. Design cannot answer that much on its own, but it can in tandem with science’.

Meanwhile, Peter Swann, Nottingham University Business School’s Professor of Industrial Economics, will be talking about ’e-waste’ – rapid computer obsolescence.

’There is a failure of systems thinking between computer chip companies, computer companies and software groups to address the issue of short product life cycles. It requires design management thinking in all three parts of the industry to come up with a joint solution.’

Three more symposiums will follow this one, together creating the base for a research project.

Foulkes hopes that speakers, delegates and organisers remember that ’design management is fairly easy, because it is all about human relationships. It doesn’t require a hammer to crack this nut’.

MDMN’s next three events

  • Design Management Roles in Current and Emerging Practice – November, University of Salford
  • Creating an Environment for Knowledge Exchange – June 2011, University of Dundee
  • The Emerging Value of Design Management to Society and the Economy – November 2011, location to be confirmed

21st Century Contexts for Design Management is on 23 April at the Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place, London W1

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