Leading Through Innovation

Interdisciplinary Study of Design Builds Better Business

Interdisciplinary Study of Design Builds Better Business

Creativity is a matter of course in Managing the New Product Development Process, taught by Haas School Senior Lecturer Sara Beckman (pictured above.) For more than a decade, this Haas School elective has guided inter-disciplinary student teams from concept generation through prototype development in a semester-long product development project.

Such course offerings prompted BusinessWeek to name Haas as one of the top design schools in the world in October 2007, for the second year in a row. It also called design thinking "the hottest trend in business culture today."

Beckman, who holds both a master's degree and a doctorate in industrial engineering and engineering management from Stanford University, co-teaches the course. She is joined by mechanical engineering professor Alice Agogino and Leslie Speer, associate professor with California College of the Arts. Designers from top firms such as PointForward, frogdesign, Fitch, IDEO, and Cheskin lend expertise as guest lecturers and coaches.

Design thinking is the hottest trend in business culture today.Haas was one of the first business schools to pioneer cross-disciplinary study of design. Beckman's course was launched in 1996 and a course on the strategic role of design in business, taught by Senior Lecturer Trudy Kehret-Ward, began in 1994. Beckman also teaches courses on design for the Haas School's Evening & Weekend MBA Program and Center for Executive Development.

Offered through UC Berkeley's Management of Technology Program, the course exemplifies a cornerstone of the Haas School strategic plan: interdisciplinary study. Managing the New Product Development Process brings together Berkeley MBA students and graduate students from the schools of engineering and information, along with design students from the California College of the Arts. Together, the students explore the entire innovation process of product design, including customer needs assessment, concept generation, prototype creation, and financial analysis. The course culminates in a product tradeshow judged by some 40 design professionals.

"I am continually surprised by the breadth and diversity of what the students develop," says Beckman. This year past year's projects included an executive lunchbox, social networking software, and a mechanical blood clot buster for deep vein thrombosis patients. Beckman sees this wide-ranging creativity as a natural outgrowth of the course's interdisciplinary nature. "I find that having the opportunity to work with both art students and engineers gives MBA students entirely new ways of approaching innovation, teamwork, problem-solving-- even their own careers."

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