Five Minutes with MEM Clinical Professor Dan Brown

In this Q&A, Brown talks about product design, managing the design process and why he enjoys teaching MEM students.

Dan Brown has spent 30 years practicing design and product commercialization. He’s worked in industry. He’s been a consultant, an inventor and an entrepreneur.

He also is a Clinical Professor in the Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program at Northwestern University.

During the course of his career, Brown has attained more than 30 US Utility Patents and a number of international design and innovation awards. It is that knowledge and experience that he brings to MEM, where he teaches Product Design for Engineering Managers.

Brown took some time to talk about his class, his experience with new product design and what he sees as an advantage of the MEM program.

How do you describe what you do to someone with no knowledge of product design and development? ​

I am a strategic researcher seeking new opportunities to create competitive advantage and commercial opportunities using a designerly methodology that is both qualitative and quantitative skills based. New Product Design is so much more than the traditional paradigm of Industrial Design.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

After years spent in industry as an engineer and progressing through management and entrepreneurship, I believed that I would like to teach those skills I practiced over the years. I derive great satisfaction working with students in the development of their design approaches and proficiencies.

What are two or three things you hope MEM students take away from your course?

  1. Product Design is not the artifact or outcome of the designer’s work. Design is the strategic process of seeking, conceiving and creating new and advantaged outcomes that can compete and sustain themselves in the marketplace.
  2. There is a designerly methodology that is both robust and reproducible that is on par with the Scientific Methodology that most students are familiar with.
  3. Managing the design process requires much more than project management skills. It is a strategic process of research, analysis, synthesis and validation that must be led by example in organizations.

What is your favorite part of teaching MEM students?

Most MEM students have had a strong undergraduate experience, as well as real world working experiences in the marketplace. Each student brings these experience and lessons to the classroom that we share and all learn from. I enjoy translating the design lessons of the class to the context of the students real world experiences. I believe that this connects the dots for them to better learn the design methodologies.

What do you think differentiates THE MEM PROGRAM?

I believe our whole brain thinking design culture here at Northwestern Engineering allows us to integrate the theory traditionally taught in the classroom with practical experiences from the real world. This interplay between theory and practice that I find across the MEM curriculum and among my fellow faculty members provides a perfect blend of teaching and learning opportunities for us.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I go to a lot of faculty meetings, but I have to say that I really enjoy the MEM faculty meetings. The faculty is excellent, and I constantly feel challenged to push myself harder. We have a great program and culture.