Davos, Economics and Left & Right Brain Thinking

January 26th, 2006

As you might have recognized Bruce Nussbaum, BusinessWeek’s innovation & design blogger is currently reporting directly from the World Economic Forum in Davos:

“Attendees at this year’s meeting, which begins on Jan. 24, will see many familiar faces. But they’ll also notice an influx of people no one would have thought qualified to join a few years ago: designers. Davos 2006, in fact, is shaping up to be a very different kind of forum. In addition to the standard topics, an unprecedented 22 sessions will focus on the general theme of “Innovation, Creativity & Design Strategy.”

This is good news for the design community and this is clearly strengthing the design’s stakes at the corporate table. Finally this is also good news for “design management” or let it be “business design” MBA students as well since:

“Yet, the global management paradigm is clearly shifting from left to right brain thinking. The new management mantra of the 21st century is breakthrough innovation via creative-design thinking. It’s replacing the old business-value proposition of incremental improvement through control that’s still being taught in most B-schools and peddled by most consulting companies …”

So stay tuned (also via this blog) on how the first MBA Class of 2006 at Zollverein School will make their way from the paradigm of “control” to what I among others have characterized as “Abductive Reasoning”: Collect, Collate, Consolidate, Collaborate.

A designer is not just a craftsman. He’s also a thinker!

January 12th, 2006

If you follow the recent discussion about design in the international press there clearly is an emphasis on the growing importance of design made in Asia. Among various reasons the continuous outsourcing of labour intensive tasks to Asia say China, Taiwan or Korea for many years now brings back the aesthetics and visual language of these regions back to the western hemisphere. While in the past we’ve seen the Tiger-states mostly producing and copying western products they now manage to catch up by developing their own creative industries infrastructure in order to compete with the formerly western dominated design paradigms. This becomes quite obvious if you consider the amount of design and engineering schools now emerging in India, China, Taiwan & Korea among others. Korea is no exception here as well however one of the latest prominent examples of this turn around from being a copycat producer to a world class consumer brand is Samsung Electronics. Maybe this story among others is also fostered by the fact Korea alone has 230 design schools which is more than America! In a recent article in BusinessWeek Online you can find an interview with Lee Kun Pyo, director of the Human-Centered Interaction Design Laboratory at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology. BusinessWeek Asia Editor David Rocks and Seoul Bureau Chief Moon Ihlwan recently sat down with Lee in Seoul. One of the triggers for the interview has clearly been Samsung’s success story:

“Over the past decade, Korea’s Samsung Electronics has transformed itself from a copycat producer of uninspiring goods into one of the world’s top consumer-electronics brands. Much of that transformation is due to a shift in power at the company from engineers to designers. Samsung’s rebirth has inspired other Korean companies to place a greater emphasis on design — in fact, it has energized the country’s design community.”

However one of the key insights which underpins the importance of post graduate programmes (especially in the western hemisphere) offered at the Zollverein School as well are:

“So at that time, a designer’s problem was deciding how it should look. You needed to know how to draw. But now, companies are trying to be first in the world with innovative products. So you can’t simply rely on drawing skills. A designer is not just a craftsman. He’s also a thinker.”

Coat hangers can be sexy too …

December 1st, 2005

As you might have noticed in my previous posting the difference between the two definitions on Design Leadership is the level of abstraction.

While Design Leadership is clearly about the big issues like “strategic intent” or “strategic direction” the success rate of it manifests itself in “designed” solutions which can be “experienced” and which create economic value.

When it comes to illustrating Design Leadership it’s always easy to refer to Apple Computer. However David used a “not so cool” but quite interesting case study in order to illustrate what Design Leadership can actually mean. He referred to the UK retailer “Peacocks” selling clothing, footwear and homewear. Today Peacocks has over 425 stores throughout the UK and employs over 5000 people in the UK and and in franchises overseas in Turkey, Bahrain and UAE.

The design issue at Peacocks some years ago has been to change the design of the company’s coat hangers and re-think the stock hanging approach. To make a long story short, at the end of the project the company afforded a refit investment of a total of GBP 1.5m while being able to reduce Unit costs per hanger from 13 pence to 5 pence! Additionally the hangers could be re-used up to 6 times each. If you consider that the company has been selling some 60m items per year this resulted in considerable cost savings. Furthermore labour costs have been reduced by GBP 2m/per year which is an equivalent of 400.000 working hours simply due to a more effective box-to-hanger process. In total this project can be truly called a “success”

Interestingly this initiative hasn’t been led by any trained designers, but by a Marketing Manager at Peacocks and a Marketing Director of Plasti-Form  the manufacturer of the hangers. So what kind of insight does this short case hold for us?

Firstly, design is not exclusive to designers, but rather a question of value creation. Secondly, and this counts even more in the light of the emerging field of experience design, value creation is not limited to brand design only. Thirdly, and this has been David’s conclusion from this case:

  • Design Leadership is not just about external issues like: Brand, Product or Visuals, etc.
  • Design Leadership explicitly considers the internal focus as well like: Supply Chain, Production Process, Service Chain, Customer Experience, etc.

Consequently, the curriculum at the Zollverein School addresses both areas with equal importance.

Design Leadership

November 30th, 2005

If you follow the press on topics like design, innovation and business there are new buzzwords each and every month. However some stay apart from the buzz and “Design Leadership” certainly is such a term. Not because it’s not buzz, but rather because there are many approaches how to actually “achieve” this leadership.

David provided his stake to the discussion by giving two definitions he thinks are worthwhile to note. The first one is by Raymond Turner (today Principal of Raymond Turner Associates-Design Leadership Consultants):

“Design is the principal means by which business manifests its strategic intent … Design connects strategic intent with day-to-day business activities”

While I find this definition still quite generic David also provided his view on the topic as well:

“Design Leadership is about increasing the knowledge content and hence value added within a product or service”

Reflecting on these two definitions there are serious doubts these days if we in the western industrialized countries are still able to exercise this leadership in the light of globalization. David’s approach on how to stay ahead of the emerging economic (design) stars like China or India is to align Design Leadership to the “Triple Bottom Line” which aims to consider economic behaviour from three equally important perspectives:

  • Economic Success (Profit)
  • Environmental Success (Eco-Friendly)
  • Empowerment Success (People Friendly)

Consequently if post-graduate design education (like the Zollverein School MBA programme) aims for educating Design Leaders than it must address issues of the Triple Bottom Line as well. And it will do so for sure …

Basecamp Lecturer: David Griffiths

November 29th, 2005

Beside the trouble (see my previous posting ;-) I was pleased to attend the Sunday session of the Basecamp. Beside Rachel Smart another UK fellow held a workshop: David Griffiths. David has a close link to the creative industries for many years and he is a contributor to design education and professional practice issues.

In 1992 he joined Royal Mail to manage their Identity Programme. Between 1993-2003 he was a member of the Marketing Consultancy Practice of Royal Mail’s internal consultancy and project management organisation. After the Identity implementation programme was completed he established a design management team. In 1995 the team won the UK Design Effectiveness Award Grand Prix.

Recently David has been exploring new business opportunities particularly in India where he has established a close network to top design schools as well as creative agencies. Therefore he has been able to link his insights into design leadership not only to central Europe, but also to the emerging hot spots of industrial and communication design. Consequently his workshop has been labeled: Design Leadership – A competitive Advantage in today’s economy.

So what did we discuss in this context:

  • Design Leadership and success
  • The triple bottom line as a metric of success
  • The role of knowledge in the economy
  • How design is being re-designed (knowledge)
  • The implications for management training
  • Design Leadership’s role in economic success

Stay tuned for some more detailed postings on these issues!

Zollverein Base Camp | Nov. 25-27th

November 28th, 2005

Well, last weekend has been crazy; at least the weather conditions here in North-Western Germany. Lots of snow (more than 20 cm) which is pretty unusual in this area and at this time of the year.

Coincidentally the Zollverein School Base Camp has been scheduled at this weekend as well (Murphy says “Hello”), but fortunately an “invisible hand” seems to have brought all speakers and participants on site and most importantly just in time; except for me who got stuck in the snow …

Anyway even though I didn’t manage to attend the sessions on Friday and Saturday luckily the streets and in the region have been cleared on Sunday. Therefore I was lucky to attend on Sunday.

Prior to sharing my impressions from the Sunday session which has been led by design management consultant David Griffiths I would like to give you an idea what the “Base Camp” actually is:

The so called “Base Camp” is an event successful MBA candidates (after their application) will be invited for in order to have the selection interviews for the MBA programmes. The Base Camp seminar is the introductory event to the MBA. It offers the possibility to get to know the Zollverein School and its programmes. Finally it introduces students to the connections of management and strategic design and their special application in design-oriented companies.

Again more than 10 candidates have been invited to join the “Base Camp 2005” coming from a broad range of professions (marketing managers as well as graphic and industrial designers). Guest lecturers invited for this term have been:

  • David Griffiths, London (Design Leadership)
  • Prof. Mike Richter, Berlin (Strategy Design)
  • Dr. Schaefer, Germany (Accounting)
  • Dr. Rachel Smart, London (Design Business)



November 21st, 2005

Hello and welcome to the brand new ‘Zollverein School Blog’! After a break of some months I’m happy to continue my work from the Zollverein SummerSchool 2005 blog on this new space and named: The Zollverein School Blog.

As you can see in the header claim on top of this page the current release is numbered with 0.9. Within the next weeks new content and postings are placed on this blog and will make it grow bigger and more powerful towards version 1.0.

So far I (Ralf Beuker) am the editor of this blog which is maintained by the Zollverein School in Essen, Germany. We’re planning to extend the group of contributers ranging from staff members of the Zollverein School over students, alumnies to guest lecturers and external experts.

Similarly to the Zollverein SummerSchool Blog 2005 I will take the opportunity of the Base Camp taking place in Essen from November 24th to 27th, 2005. The Base Camp seminar is the introductory event to the MBA. It offers the possibility to get to know the Zollverein School and its programmes. Successful candidates have been invited for the base camp in order to have the selection interviews for the MBA programmes. Finally the Base Camp introduces students to the connections of management and strategic design and their special application in design-oriented companies.

I will be present on all 3 days and will report about lectures, sessions and other events. This should give you an idea of the character of this unique school.

So stay tuned and feel free to drop a comment anytime by using the comment feature at the end of each posting.