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BusinessWeek Recognizes Graduate Programs as World Class

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Business Week

Every week Luke Nogales ends his work week like this: He leaves his job as a researcher for Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, drives five hours to a friend’s house in Joliet, Illinois, does some last-minute reading before going to sleep, wakes up early to drive to Evanston, spends the day in classes in McCormick’s Master of Product Design and Development Management (MPD2) Program, meets with a group of team members, and finally makes the five-hour drive back home.

It’s a demanding way to spend his weekend, but Nogales is not complaining. “The program is energizing,” he says. “I really enjoy it. It motivates me to make that long drive.”

Nogales is not alone in his cross-state pursuit of professional education. Many of the midcareer students who make up the Master of Product Design and Development Management program fly or drive from far-flung locales — including California, Texas and, Tennessee — to get what Northwestern offers: a specialized MS that provides an education in product design and development.

While product development may seem like a highly specialized niche, people — and businesses — tuned into the increasingly influential world of design are paying attention. The MPD2 Program, along with Northwestern’s MMM Program, was named one of the 30 best design programs in the world by BusinessWeek magazine. Northwestern was the only university to have two programs listed.

“Industry is still learning what a product design and development program really is,” says Rich Lueptow, one of the codirectors of the MPD2 Program. (Greg Holderfield, a highly respected designer, joined the program as the other codirector early this year.) “The field has been active for a number of years, but many businesses are just beginning to understand that there is value in design.”

Luke NogalesThe MPD2 Program began more than eight years ago in response to industry’s demand for a program that trained managers in product design and development. At that time an MBA was the only available business degree, and when it came to product design, MBA programs just weren’t cutting it. Walter Herbst, clinical professor of mechanical engineering and director of the MPD2 Program, knew firsthand of the mismatch between product designers and traditional business school programs: Years earlier he had sent two of the top engineers at Herbst Lazar Bell, his design firm, to an MBA program — only to lose them to another industry. “They both went into banking,” he said. “It was a horrible wake-up call.”

McCormick designed the MPD2 Program specifically for midcareer product developers, fashioning a curriculum that balances business-oriented courses like management, finance, and marketing with engineering-oriented courses including design, statistics, and innovation. Each course was created specifically for MPD2 students. “On the surface we might look like other programs, but we’re not,” Herbst says. “In other programs students have to find courses — in the engineering school, the business school, the fine arts school — to customize their degree. Here, every course is specific to the program.”

The MPD2 Program admits 38 students a year and offers classes on alternate Fridays and Saturdays. Since students are at their jobs one fewer day than usual over two weeks, the program requires a commitment from both students and the companies they work for. The curriculum consists of 23 five-week courses taught by both Northwestern faculty and practicing design professionals that give students range and depth in everything from materials selection to accounting. “We don’t get students who are just in it because they want another degree,” Lueptow says. “They love product development, and their employers want them to be more productive.”

For Nogales the program provides a way to learn the business side of industry without overlooking its design aspect. “I initially wanted to do an MBA,” he says, “but there wasn’t a program that focused on creating products. This program is a great balance of engineering and business, and it emphasizes the process of creating products. It helps me see the big picture, how the whole system works.”

MPD2 students range from medical doctors to jewelry designers, all with years of technical and business experience. Faculty and the program board tweak courses and subjects to keep up with real-world demand. “The business world is getting flatter,” Herbst says. “Whether you are talking about a company in Milwaukee or a company in Beijing, the main question is, How do you compete? We think we’re the answer.”

MMM Program: from manufacturing to design

The MMM Program began as a partnership between the Kellogg School of Management and McCormick more than two decades ago. At the time the three M’s stood for “Master of Management and Manufacturing.” As time passed, however, it became clear that the program was much more than the name indicated. It evolved to include services, supply chain, and operations management as well.

Five years ago the program underwent another major change when it began to include courses on product design and development. The shift was complete when Don Norman, a well-known figure in the design field, joined as codirector two years ago. Norman’s design expertise melded with the systems expertise of codirector Sudhakar Deshmukh. The “manufacturing” part of the name no longer seemed relevant. The program was refocused on design and operations and rebranded as an MBA plus a master of engineering management degree, keeping the MMM acronym.

Christie Shan“We teach our students how to manage products and services from concept through execution,” says Deshmukh, the Charles E. Morrison Professor of Decision Sciences in Kellogg.“That’s what makes this program unique,” says Norman, the Breed Professor of Design in McCormick’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “There are many programs that focus on design. We cover the entire system.”

Today the full-time program is attracting a new kind of student — one who is looking for a new way of thinking. Christie Shan, a consultant in real estate operations, arrived at Kellogg last fall aiming to do an MBA but decided that it might not deliver the creative curriculum she hoped for. “Recognition of the human factor doesn’t happen enough in consulting,” she says. “In the MMM Program I learn about focusing on the human-centered aspects of the process. That really excites me.”

The first year of the MMM Program features a full-year, three-quarter course sequence that covers both design and operations. In this case, design doesn’t necessarily mean designing a product; it could be designing a structure or an organization. Either way, the program stresses “design thinking.” “Design thinking means that you don’t simply solve the problems that you are given,” Norman says. “You have to back up and see what the fundamental issues are. Engineers know how to solve problems. MBAs know how to solve problems. I teach my students how to figure out what the problem is in the first place.”

Last fall Norman challenged MMM students to redesign the interior of the car — no rules, just find the right problem before you begin solving it. It was Shan’s first experience of the design process. “We were challenged with being comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity,” she says. “The creative process — brainstorming — wasn’t structured, and I haven’t been trained to think that way. But then everyone began throwing out ideas and trying to break through these barriers. It helped me grow into a totally different business leader and to see things in a way that most businesspeople don’t.”

When the program first began focusing on design, only one or two students out of 40 enrolled said they applied to learn about design. Now 70 percent apply with design in mind, and nearly half say they want to learn both operations and design. This is the result of the program’s effort to meld operations and design into a new curriculum that produces the kind of managers businesses want.

“We don’t produce designers. We produce businesspeople,” Norman says. “When our students graduate, they are not designers, nor are they operations specialists. They are managers who understand operations and design. That makes them more valuable.”

A community of design graduate students

McCormick’s focus on design grew exponentially after the Segal Design Institute was founded here in 2007. Since then faculty and administration have beefed up the design aspects of graduate programs. While the MPD2  and MMM Programs provide professional degrees to students several years removed from their undergraduate experience, McCormick also wanted to provide a graduate program for the newly minted engineer who wished to learn more about the design process. As a result the school began the Master of Science in Engineering Design and Innovation (MS-EDI) Program, which admits engineers early in their career as well as recently graduated undergraduate students for an extra year of design education.

“We wanted to have a cadre of students who were here full-time, who would be a presence, and who would be very focused on design,” says Ed Colgate, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the MS-EDI Program.

At the core of the MS-EDI Program are studio design courses in which students learn human-centered design through group projects. Students also take courses in sustainability and business as well as a series of courses common to both the MMM and MS-EDI Programs. The program aims to enroll 20 students a year, which keeps it small enough for students to get plenty of one-on-one time with faculty and allows students to come together in a tight-knit design community.

“There is great power in that community,” Colgate says. “When you get a critical mass of people who share an interest in design, a lot of things begin to happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise.” MS-EDI students organize field trips, volunteer their design skills in projects for the developing world, and create extracurricular design projects for competitions. “These students are still engineers, but we see them approaching their jobs differently and bringing a greater awareness of people and innovation,” says Colgate.

The MS-EDI Program, now in its third year, is still evolving: faculty recently added a second-year option for students who want to create a thesis project. “There is a real value in taking someone with a traditional engineering education and layering on this understanding of design and innovation,” Colgate says. “I expect there will be more and more programs like this, and that’s a good thing.” 

—Emily Ayshford