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IBM and Google on why design graduates are crucial to their industry

It may not seem obvious but companies like Google and IBM rely on design graduates to move their industry forward

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October 23 2017
Design Council, design graduates


It’s a common misconception that designers should be employed in design companies – a misconception that the Design Council is determined to challenge; designers are needed in every organisation and in every industry.

As a design advocate for Google, Mustafa Kurtuldu is charged with championing design to the technology industry and everyone internally at Google.

“Design used to be seen as a bunch of creative people wasting their time,” he says. “But that is not the case any more as some of the most successful businesses are discovering.”

He is not wrong. Industries are elevated by pioneering designs every day. “Big companies are looking at industries and saying: ‘I can change this, this is failing, and we can do better’,” he says.

It is this type of industry insight that has shaped the Design Council’s innovative learning programme for students – the Design Academy.

What can you do with a degree in design?

The programme has three ambitions. First, to make graduates more employable across a wider range of industries while equipping them with the skills to navigate evolving businesses.

Second, to provide a space where faculties may collaborate, bringing together students and staff from a range of disciplines to work on challenges.

Finally, to enable designers to become more strategic in their thinking and support students from other disciplines (such as engineering, business and science) to think in a more design-led manner.

Google is an engineering company – so it’s not obvious that the company runs on design thinking, Mustafa points out.

But it is at the heart of everything that Google does. The Double Diamond, developed by the Design Council, is implemented at the company. This process generates several ideas before choosing the best one.

So, in practice, this means that at Google different people from different specialisms and departments get together to discuss problems.

Evidence and data are brought to the table and ideas start flowing. When a consensus is reached, a design (often more than one) is sketched out and everyone votes. The winning idea enters testing and, if it gets past that point, it could reach the pilot stage.

Lots of Google products have used this methodology including self-driving cars and Google Maps. “Design is not about designers”, Mustafa says, “it’s about collaboration. At university, we were taught to work in isolation but actually the opposite approach is needed.”

IBM is another huge tech company that recognises the invaluable input that design graduates can provide.

“We have a programme and a mission to [inspire] a designers’ mindset in our company,” Matt Candy, the vice-president for IBM iX, says. “We need everyone to think like a designer, but we don’t need everyone to be a designer.” 

He oversees a multidisciplinary team across the UK, the Republic of Ireland and Europe that applies design thinking and puts emerging technology to work, helping clients with the biggest business challenges of the future.

IBM have hired approximately 1,800 designers but have an employee base approaching 400,000 “non-designers” all incorporating design ideas into their roles.

When designers come to the organisation, IBM trains them in the “missing semester of design school”, Matt explains. “We are talking about critical problem-solving skills, applying design skills to business and bridging this intersection with technology.” 

As a forerunner to the missing semester programme, Matt sees the Design Council’s Design Academy as the perfect kick-off point. “At IBM Design, we strongly believe that great design is about crafting memorable experiences that delight users and help shape the future. We believe that the Design Academy offers a fantastic opportunity for students to begin that journey.”

“Our belief is that brands and businesses need to be redesigned and not re-amplified through better messages, better advertising. Design thinking is the science of the 21st century, so using that approach for problem-solving is the way in which businesses will reinvent themselves and still be here in five years’ time,” Matt adds. 

IBM launched its corporate design programme in 1956. “[Even back then,] we looked at [the] reinvention and redesign of our processes and we are still looking at them. This includes marketing, how we go about our HR practices, our products and [the] services we produce, how we help our clients [with] how they design their businesses, [and] how they build new experiences and engage with their customers. Design is essential.”   

When IBM say that everyone must have a design mindset, they mean everyone. Those at the top live and breathe design as much as those working on the ground. “We have top-down conviction. Our chairman and chief executive officer are leading our transformation through design and agile ways of working. We tell everyone that we are a 106-year-old start-up,” adds Matt.

When recruiting, Matt says that they look for graduates who “approach problems from a different perspective. I need designers because designers are problem-solvers. And the problems that the world has today need a different way [of thinking] to solve those problems. It is the best time ever if you are a creator. Design is the new frontier for business.” 

Read more: Best universities for arts and humanities degrees 


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