A New Way of Thinking: Teaching Design Management in an Integrated College Setting

Presented by: Manish Kumar, Shauna Corry Hernandez

The concept of “Design Thinking” or thinking about solving problems not from a business perspective, but from the perspective of a designer is actively influencing business processes worldwide (Breen, 2005). Today’s design schools are looking at this concept from the opposite angle, and asking how can we better prepare our students to become successful leaders in the business world (Granet, 2011). This paper presentation will highlight one approach to this problem through the development of an interdisciplinary Design Management course. The goal of this presentation is to not only share a successful course design, but to encourage and expand the existing dialogue of how we as interior design educators can better prepare our students to become successful leaders in professional practice. The dialogue between design educators and practicing professionals has been ongoing for many years. Interior design educators (Tew, 1991; Lee & Hagerty, 1996; Granet, 2011) have examined the need for student understanding of businesses practices. While Tew (1991) found that business skills can be best be learned on the job, Lee and Hagerty (1996) found the perceptions of upper division students and design practitoners differed in expectations in terms of understanding business management. Granet (2011) calls for increasing the business management knowledge design students receive in undergraduate education from a design perspective. To address this need in an integrated design college, a Design Management course was developed and has been taught as a cross listed seminar for three years. The course is now offered by the Interior Design program and is available to all design majors. Primary emphasis is placed on managing business processes; decision making; change management; product development; competitive advantage; creativity & innovation; productivity; business ethics and cost benefit analysis. The course addresses the need for design students to gain business knowledge through the instruction method of the design case study. Although interior design students complete precedent case studies in studio projects and lecture classes, the format of a traditional business case study encourages students to analyze the decision making process and gain an understanding of how business management influences the success of design initiatives in regards to project, people and organizational contexts. The outcomes of this course have been assessed through evaluation of student work (case studies), student interviews, and reviews of student course evaluations for three years. Students report the course to be very meaningful, and that it has had an impact on their understanding of the business of design management and overall focused business practices not covered in the professional practice course. Students noted the course increased their understanding of specific business issues including negotiation, project management and team management. Student evaluations have improved each year with scores in the 3.8-4.0 (4 is considered excellent) range this year. Students specifically noted the course encouraged them to “think in a new way,” and look at situations with more of a business thought process. This presentation will share the story of how the course developed, course content, development changes made to address specific needs of Interior Design students, course assignments and examples of student work, along with a discussion of the perceived impacts of the course from both students and faculty perspectives.


  • Breen, Bill. (2005). The business of design: In an economy where style is king, we all need to start thinking and acting more like design, Fast Company, Issue 93. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/55581/business-design
  • Granet, K. (2011).The business of design: Balancing creativity and profitability. New York. Princeton Architectural Press.
  • Kyung, J. Lee and Hagerty, W. (1996). Comparison of occupational expectations between interior design students and practitioners. Journal of Interior Design. 22, (1), 1-14.
  • Tew, S. (1991). The role of business and communication skill preparation for interior design graduates. Journal of Interior Design. 17, (2), 51-58.
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