What skills and knowledge an MA Design Management graduate should have in order to be employable in the creative industries sector, in my opinion?

It was in September 2010, when I defended my master’s thesis titled Corporate Design Strategy and Branding: the role of Design Management in developing the Corporate Identity. I started that presentation with a little story claiming that the knowledge on design management is a matter of professional survival. Today, after altogether more than 18 years of professional experience my claim would be a little bit different, namely: Not only knowledge and skills, but particularly Design Management know-how is a matter of our prosperity. As you noticed there are two main differences in my claim. One is that I included in my recent claim also know-how and not only knowledge (and skills) and the other is that I’m not worried or motivated by professional survival but about prosperity.

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An invitation to answer the question of employability skills and knowledge of an MA Design Management graduate

I was recently invited to prepare a 10-minute presentation with the answer to the question: What skills and knowledge do you think an MA Design Management graduate should have in order to be employable within the creative industries sector? So, I did prepare the presentation and in this post I wish to write down my thoughts and my opinion of that question.

First things first. To answer the question what skills and knowledge an MA Design Management graduate should have to be employable within the creative industries sector, in my opinion we need to answer a question what makes a good manager, first. The best possible answer to that question gives Mathew Stewart at the end of his book Management Myth:

A good manager is someone with a facility for analysis and an even greater talent for synthesis; someone who has an eye both for the details and for the one big thing that really matters; someone who is able to reflect on facts in a disinterested way, who is always dissatisfied with pat answers and the conventional wisdom, and who therefore takes a certain pleasure in knowledge itself; someone with a wide knowledge of the world and an even better knowledge of the way people work; someone who knows how to treat people with respect; someone with honesty, integrity; trustworthiness, and the other things that make up the character; someone, in short, who understands oneself and the world around us well enough to know how to make it better. By this definition, of course, a good manager is nothing more or less that a good and well-educated person.

I definitely share this conviction that education in its widest sense is very important for every manager, not only the design management graduate. On the other hand, if I would answer the question on knowledge and skills out of my instinct and experience in running a strategic design consultancy Vizuarna, I would present a Design Management Work Triangle, it is how I like to call it. It’s no coincidence it it reminds you on the Kitchen Work Triangle, because by being a design manager, you have very similar responsibilities as the chef of the kitchen. In my humble opinion.

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Namely, in my opinion the future MA Design Management graduate will work somewhere in the triangle, maybe even in the middle of it – where there are: designers or creatives or copywriters… developers (be that web or mobile, artificial intelligence or machine learning engineers…) and clients (be that internal or external)… But wait, that sounds much like the Project Management, doesn’t it? And in fact, it is. Design projects have a famous history of failures, delays, budget overruns and similar.

In the world of design and construction maybe one of the most famous cases in the 20th century is a Sydney Opera House. 76 million US dollars of budget overrun and decades of delays should be a strong lesson to our graduates for Project Management knowledge and skills. Project Management is also basic part of some of the standard competence frameworks. Still, in my opinion Design Management Know-How is of the utmost importance to our graduate. That was the main reason why the title of my presentation was slightly different than suggested in the invitation: Knowledge, know-how and skills an MA Design Management graduate should have to be employable within the creative industries sector

I just couldn’t resist and had to, in a good old manner of design thinking to re-frame the problem with which I was faced. Allow me to explain this decision of mine with a short story.

Design management know-how, not only knowledge and skills

I was on a two-day’s workshop from Alexander Osterwalder. It was in November 2011 in Munich on the topic of Business Model Generation. The right to attend the workshop for 1€ only, was the reward for my successful Twitter campaign of the workshop. At the workshop itself, at one point it suddenly struck me what could be the connection of Business Model Canvas and Design Thinking. Namely, it was Roger Martin, the author of the very influential book The Design of Business, who defined design thinking as the productive combination of rational and intuitive thinking. And Alex Osterwalder was speaking at that workshop of the Business Model Canvas and its two sides, the left one as the rational and the right one as the intuitive.

Yes, I thought, this is what I should do. Connect business model innovation with design thinking. Which is what I’m doing ever since. In different roles as the university teacher, as a coach and mentor, PhD student, blogger and also a book author. But what has all these to do with the Design Management Know-How, you must be asking yourself right now. Stick with me just a bit more through a historical development of design management. The leading author of this analysis is Brigitte Borja de Mozota, also the author of the Design Management book. You’ll notice that according to the de Mozota historical development of design management, the main perspective in the new century is design thinking, the role of design are new business models, and last but not least the focus of design management are creative organisations.

By historical development of design management the main perspective in the new century is Design thinking, the role of design are New business models, and last but not least the focus of Design Management are Creative organisations.

I did understand that analysis more then well in theory, I cited it namely in my masters thesis, mentioned in the beginning. We could also say that I had the necessary knowledge of design management development, but it nevertheless lasted several next years for me to really grasp that design and design management role are new business models, only after the business model of my company abroad, failed. I gained this new know-how of mine of design management through another triangle or some called it also a learning curve. It is a – Prototype – Fail – Learn triangle, that is based on the Business Model Generation methodology.

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At that time I didn’t think of the business model of my company abroad as of a prototype. I was trained by classical knowledge of an MBA graduate who believes in a single right business plan and accordingly in a single right business model. This failure of mine, has cost me around 30.000 € in direct costs, but has on the other hand led me to become a business model innovation coach. I have then for several next years tried to transfer that new know-how of mine towards designers, start-ups and small-and-medium enterprises. Quite a task if we consider that know-how is defined as the practical knowledge or skill; expertise, also. It is said that ‘Know-how is often tacit knowledge, which means that it is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it.’ That’s why in my opinion our MA Design Management graduate should have not only strong knowledge and skills, but particularly Design Management know-how.

Know-how is often tacit knowledge, which means that it is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalising it.

Where will or could be an MA Design Management graduate employed? And where not?

My thinking behind this claim has its roots in the widely acclaimed book The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In the book Taleb argues that knowledge itself is not of a much value, but that know-how is more than just needed. Otherwise, Taleb also argues strongly that predicting the future is the matter for astrology and not of economy, what else of management. So, who am I to predict the future? What I have learnt about predicting the future and especially the future of employment is that the only thing that’s for certain – there is no certainty anymore. Especially not in creative industries sector, in my opinion.

There is one thing about the future though, I am certain at some point we will all agree. Not only in my opinion, we are counting the last days of Business as Usual Economy in the 21st century. Because I don’t wish to sound apocalyptic, we should not forget to be humble learners of the history and that does not exclude us from having a vision for our endeavours. So, let me present in the end part of this post my vision of where our MA Design Management graduate will or could be employed within the creative industries sector.

And where not.

The future. No more
Usual Economy.

The university program that invited me for the presentation claims on its website that its graduates will or could be employed within: “product design agencies, manufacturing companies, design consultancies, R & D departments, research institutions and government bodies.” It is also said that specific “careers might include acting as a design team leader, design project manager, design researcher and design policy maker.“ They also offer a ‘valuable assistance on how to begin as a freelancer or entrepreneur.’ So far, so good.

While this mentioned six sectors and four career profiles sound more than just legitimate option for an MA Design Management graduate, we should have in mind that Roz Goldfarb has in her book Careers by design mentioned altogether 38 careers profiles in design – so, Goldfarb is NOT explaining and describing design management careers. This 38 design careers are divided in four frames. On one line there are Product Design (Creating the Value Proposition) and Communication Design (Communicating the Value Proposition) career profiles and on the other this career profiles are divided by whether they are being done in Analog or Digital Medium. Naturally this lines are getting more and more blurred but this are really good frames, in my opinion. And what’s even more important, in my opinion design managers have an option to work with all 40 mentioned design careers. So, every design team should have its design manager, if you ask me. Even an individual designer, whether that’s a starter, beginner or an all star designer.

Roz Goldfarb has in her book Careers by design mentioned 38 design career profiles, divided in four quadrants or frames.

In the frame of Communication Design in the Analog Medium there are: + Product Marketing Managers; + Brand Strategists; + Program Marketing Specialists; + Marketing Research Specialists; + Media Planners; + Writers; + Packaging Design Specialists; + Illustrators; and + Photographers. In both Analog and Digital Medium of Communication Design there are: + Advertising Art Directors; and + Graphic Designers. In the Digital Medium of Communication Design Medium frame there are: + Animators; + Filmmakers; + Audio/Music Composers; + Direct Marketing Specialist; + Broadcast Designers; + Audience Development Specialists. Connected with all four frames are: + Information Designers. Connected to both Communication- and Product Design in the Digital Medium are: + Sound Engineers; + Usability Researchers; + Game Designers. In the Digital Medium of the Product Design are: + Interaction Designers; + Software Engineers; + Information Architects; + O/S Specialists; + Database Specialists; + Hardware Engineers; + Content Management Specialists; + System Architects. In both Mediums of the Products Design there are two profiles: + User Interface Designer and + Software Designers. In the Analog Medium of the Product Design we will find: + Business Strategists; + Publishers; + Product Managers; + User Researchers; + Publication Designers; + Retail Environment Designers; and Industrial Designers.

Design managers have, in my opinion an option to work with all 38 design careers profiles.

Please, allow me to now explain where our dear MA Design Management graduate will not or should not work, in my opinion.

Although so far my only experience is with the bachelor Design Management students, therefore I’m not really yet in a position to evaluate prospect of an MA graduates to become employable, I do know a little something about freelancing or entrepreneurship. Or better to say, I know what doesn’t work in freelancing or entrepreneurship. So, let me try to explain it. Don’t become an entrepreneur. Just don’t.

It’s very likely that with this negative statement I provoked a negative feeling and reaction in our brains right now. But, we should all be aware that it is really a lot if we know what doesn’t work, meaning where our graduates don’t have good options to be employable. The reference I have for this statement is from the book I have to mention, it’s Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. In his book Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner for economy, who is psychologist by training (!!!) explains why it’s very, very risky and unreasonable for every one of us to open a restaurant, for example. And why it’s even far riskier with very, very little chance of success when starting our own business. I wish to cite Kahneman’s comforting conviction “that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.” That’s why in my opinion our graduate should not even start trying to become a freelancer or entrepreneur.

“…our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.” —Daniel Kahneman

My vision of the employability of an MA Design Management graduate

But my vision for our MA Design Management graduate will include predicting the future anyway. I will take the risk that you (or Taleb) accuse me of being an astrologists and say that besides Internet; Environment, Digitalization and Automation are in my opinion by far the greatest threats and opportunities at the same time to our employment in the information-based civilization that we live-in. As have many others in the last decades, Juliet Schor acknowledged in her last book Plenitude – too little work is a major cause of poverty. And Schor proposes us to engage in Do It Yourself concepts, Sharing Economy and Social Innovation. Some others, like the founder of the community Economy for the Common Good Christian Felber, have even developed a Common Good Balance Sheet to give companies an account to which they fulfil some of the important constitutional values of democratic states: human dignity, cooperation, sustainability, justice and democracy. Still other German speaking authors, like Harald Weltzer and Sascha Lobo even claim that this is the era of the Platform Capitalism.

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So, at the end of this post we came back to the beginning: new business models which is the role of design and design management in the new century as already explained in the design management historical development. We should all start by solving this complex set of graduate employment problems today by using design thinking with progressive business model generation methodology of a fast and cheap learning curve or a triangle, also mentioned in the beginning of this post.

Because, now we already know: Not only knowledge and skills, but particularly Design Management know-how is a matter of our prosperity.

Sources / Books
De Mozota, B.B., 2003. Design management: using design to build brand value and corporate innovation. Skyhorse Publishing Inc..
Felber, C., 2010. Die Gemeinwohl-Ökonomie: das wirtschaftsmodell der zukunft. Wien: Deuticke.
Goldfarb, R., 2002. Careers by Design: A Business Guide for Graphic Designers. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc..
Hase, H. et al. 2006. Design Management Teil 1: Design Management im Fokus. Teil 2 : Design Management konkret Teil 3 : Einblicke und Ausblicke.
Kahneman, D., 2011. Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.
Martin, R.L., 2009. The design of business: Why design thinking is the next competitive advantage. Harvard Business Press.
Osterwalder, A. and Pigneur, Y., 2010. Business model generation: a handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers. John Wiley & Sons.
Ramroth, W., 2006. Project management for design professionals. Kaplan Publishing.
Schor, J. and White, K.E., 2010. Plenitude: The new economics of true wealth. Findaway World LLC.
Stewart, M., 2009. The management myth: Debunking modern business philosophy. WW Norton & Company.
Taleb, N.N., 2007. The black swan: The impact of the highly improbable (Vol. 2). Random house.
Welzer, H., 2016. Die smarte Diktatur: der Angriff auf unsere Freiheit. S. Fischer Verlag.

Sources / Articles
Ball, L., Pollard, E., Stanley, N. and Oakley, J., 2010. Creative career stories. Brighton: Institute for Employment Studies.
De Mozota, B. B. and Kim, B.Y., 2009. Managing design as a core competency: Lessons from Korea. Design Management Review, 20(2), pp.66-76.
Dubickis, M. and Gaile-Sarkane, E., 2017. Transfer of know-how based on learning outcomes for development of open innovation. Journal of Open Innovation: Technology, Market, and Complexity, 3(1), p.4.
Lucerne School of Art and Design, Design Management, International. 2016. The Role of Design Management. FH Zentralschweiz, 8 p.

Photo sources
Daniel Kahneman quote –
21st century corporation –

Marko Savić
I’m exploring & researching the inter-dependence of the business model innovation with design thinking. You may wish to hire me as a Business Design Coach or Senior Lecturer in Design Management or as a Key-Note Speaker at your next event.


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