Management Thinking in Design

Ansal University is one of the very few institutions of higher education in India which truly believes in trans-disciplinary learning (TDL). Apart from the fact that students in all Schools of the University are expected to undertake joint TDL projects, the University has also come out with trans-disciplinary programmes. One such programme, M. Design, beginning in the Academic Year 2013-14, focuses on convergence of design thinking and management and equips the students enrolled in that programme with the knowledge and skills of designing large scale systems and effectively managing them.

Credit must be given to Late Prof. John Warfield of the George Mason University, USA, who propounded what he called, “A Science of Generic Design” way back in 1988. A book by Prof. Warfield with this title happens to be one of original creative works elaborating on the conceptual linkages between design and management and giving a fresh perspective to what design is all about. It may be interesting to recall a few important points made by him in this book.

Warfield begins with the view that large scale systems have become prevalent in the society and have a pervasive influence on people. A variety of components go into design, making systems grow rapidly in scale. However, he asserts, that the system of belief that can support the processes of design is grossly under-developed leading to under-conceptualization in design thinking. This is one major reason why large scale systems are often at the risk of failure. Design thinking must have the ability to visualize large scale systems characterized by high costs, no. of people involved, extent of the influence and complexity of the system and size of the potential for disaster in case of failure. To do so requires human planning, oversight and steering, all of which depend upon quality of human thought. It is the discipline of management which hones the quality of human thought and creates the foundation for design of large scale systems that don’t suffer the lacunae of under-conceptualization.

Warfield came out with a very brilliant idea of a Science of Generic Design which can lay the foundation for effective designs in all fields and which supplements the design disciplines related to those specific fields. This Science of Generic Design is based on four “Universal Priors to Science”, meaning that there can be no Science without them. These are Human Being, Language, Reasoning through Relationship and Means of Archival Representation. Building on these, Warfield provides a very elaborate set of methodologies which can be applied across disciplines to increases the capacity of human beings to overcome the limits of their thought process by providing enhancements and minimizing detractions. Thus, the quality of what is being designed can be enhanced by the Science of Generic Design.

The systems of higher education world over have well-established disciplines related to sciences, engineering, humanities and languages amongst others. Cultures of Sciences and Humanities generally exist in most higher education systems; however, what is missing in higher education today is the “design culture”, according to Warfield. Besides, providing leadership and management in design has become an escalating challenge, asserts Warfield. Typically, a leader has four qualities, namely, ability to catch attention, ability to articulate a vision, ability to generate trust for himself/ herself and ability to set personal standards of behavior. As a leader steering the design of systems, one has to constantly exhibit these intrinsic leadership qualities.

Design can be seen as a process to which a problem situation is an input and a set of solutions is the output. The process of design is however not a black box but a sequence involving conceptualization, choice (amongst solution options) and implementation, involving documentation, communication and interpretation. Management thinking aided by the methodologies provided by the Science of Generic Design addresses all the components of the design process and thereby helps in creating solutions that are functional, future-proof, maintainable and capable of delivering value.

These are some interesting thoughts which the new post-graduate programme in Design at AU will build upon. It would provide an exciting opportunity to those students who have an undergraduate degree in design (and other disciplines) and have a desire to become better designers and ability to effectively manage various processes of design, operation and implementation of design. The course would also act as a catalyst for Doctorate Studies at AU on aspects such as a specialized study of the role making / craft plays in the creative thinking process, creative ethics, development of values through skills and managing Art.