ArtCenter and INSEAD recently celebrated their 10-year partnership at at Airbnb headquarters in San Francisco.

design
Writer: Teri Bond
March 11, 2015

Giving design the business: The ROI on ArtCenter’s longstanding partnership with INSEAD

What at first felt like a total culture clash just a decade ago is now standard practice in most top-earning companies. The idea of blending design innovation with business strategy has quickly evolved from a seedling to a trend and now to a “must have.”

ArtCenter alumni and friends reunited in San Francisco on February 28 to celebrate the 10-year partnership of the College and INSEAD, one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools. Close to 150 industry leaders gathered at the posh play-inducing headquarters of Airbnb on Brannan Street to toast the success of a concept early adopters admitted seemed wacky.

We call it the tri-force, like a three-legged stool, when we approach a project from the product side, engineering and design.

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“At first, it was super frustrating working with designers,” said Conor Walsh, a case team leader with Bain & Company management consultancy, during a lively panel of former students who participated in the collaborative program. “But then I realized if you want to be creative and see things in a different way you absolutely need to think like a designer, it takes you to a whole new level. I developed an appreciation for design thinking in the real world.”

“Successful companies are built by risk takers able to tap an impressive interconnected web of talented innovators who share an appreciation for the powerful intersection of design and business,” said Karen Hofmann, ArtCenter’s Product Design chair and managing director of the College’s partnership with INSEAD. “This collaboration has fueled a unique and thriving network of design and business leaders and industry partnerships around the world, resulting in a number of successful endeavors.”

“There’s tremendous value from this partnership, not only to the talent that emerges after graduation but in creating a collective consciousness among business leaders who deeply understand the design way of thinking,” said Manuel Sosa, associate professor of Technology and Operations Management, INSEAD.

At the after party, Sosa praised the leadership of both institutions for consistently supporting this odd pairing: “Without top level support, this doesn’t fly.”

Successful companies are built by risk takers able to tap an impressive interconnected web of talented innovators who share an appreciation for the powerful intersection of design and business.

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The Airbnb dining hall was buzzing with energy of the business design fusion that has come so far so fast. The knowledge makers who emerged from the partnership are leading a diverse range of businesses and think tanks, including MIT Media Lab, Google, Yahoo, 23&Me, SY Partners, BCG, BMW Designworks, Maker Studios, Karten Design, 3M, frog, Telenav, Lunar Design and HTC, the behind-the-scenes designer and manufacturer of many of the most popular OEM-branded mobile devices on the market.

Product Design alumna Katie Dill (BS 07), led tours of Airbnb’s expansive space complete with rooms replicating some of the companies’ most sought after destinations. As head of experience design, Dill says the INSEAD MBA exchange dramatically sharpened her strategic business and entrepreneurial skills.

“For me, the most impactful part of the experience was our process and learning how great it can be working with a business-minded person who looks at the world in a slightly different way, with a different methodology” she said. “I learned the business side of making things and realized how working on projects together definitely results in something better.”

Paul Teyssier, former senior director of product at PayPal, confessed there was often more than one breaking point for participants of the program, which, he feels, offered empirical experience in navigating group dynamics on any project. “There was a healthy level of tension the entire time, knowing that we had different ways of approaching a problem. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that in the professional world. We call it the tri-force, like a three-legged stool, when we approach a project from the product side, engineering and design. That tension never goes away and it creates a better result.”

“That tension is a great training ground for your future endeavors,” added Seth Weissman, human centered designer at BCG Digital Ventures. “Designers are competitive. MBAs are just as competitive.”

“What you learn is that it all starts with asking ‘What’s your intention?’ and that comes from the ability to speak the same language,” said Teyssier.

Simon Sollberger told reporters and friends about his new company Innovate Partners llc, a design centric venture capital firm, and Maureen Thurston who was instrumental as a faculty member when the INSEAD/ArtCenter fusion kicked off in 2005 (before the iPhone existed) traveled the furthest to join the reunion. Today, she’s working with Deloitte in Sydney to transform their culture by incorporating creativity and design thinking.

Each year, a cohort of design students from ArtCenter’s Pasadena campus spend a term abroad, taking MBA-level business courses at one of INSEAD’s international campuses in France and Singapore. Student teams collaborate on product-based, entrepreneurial projects while diving into the fundamentals of business development. As part of this partnership, the MBA students spend an immersive week in California’s design-driven culture, with studio visits to industry partners such as Idealab, Disney Consumer Products, General Motors, Karten Design and Belkin. This year, the tour extended to Silicon Valley and San Francisco with visits to Google, IDEO, fuseproject, frog and Autodesk.