I'm the Co-founder and CEO of The Grommet. We launch undiscovered consumer products. It's also the birthplace of Citizen Commerce. I write about design, cultural anthropology, and start-ups, mostly.

Design School must mean something different to BusinessWeek

I’m really astonished at BusinessWeek’s current global survey of the best design programs in the world.  (The Top Design Schools)   It does indeed include many of the best, long-standing design programs.  If they had cut the list from the current 60 to the appropriate 20 or so, I would not be spraying coffee out of my nostrils.

But stretching the definition of a good design school to places that do not employ a single trained designer as a professor absolutely floors me.   Who in their right might would attend Dartmouth, Babson, HBS, MIT, RIT, Northwestern or Georgia Institute of Technology for design?  That’s like going to the Pasadena School of Art to learn neurosurgery.   And these are just the strange US choices.

At least the online edition separates the schools by specialty (art, design, engineering or business).  But the print version is really misleading.  Every institution is represented as though it has a full design program.  And both lists include some very, very weak design programs, and inexplicably exclude some up-and-coming strong ones, like Notre Dame’s.

I understand that BusinessWeek is looking for “design programs that incorporate business strategy—and business programs that teach design as a tool for strategic advantage.”   But having just helped my son find and enter a college design program, I can’t imagine the confusion this article causes for recruiting companies or prospective design students.   You’d have to look long and hard for a piece of foamcore, or a drawing table, or a rigorous studio course at HBS. 

 My annoyance is probably heightened by the fact that I have long appreciated BusinessWeek’s attention to design and I expect more from the publication.  Way back in the late ’80’s, when no US business publication was covering design, BW took a pioneering and leading role.  (My friend Keith Hammonds was Boston bureau chief and he was a sympathetic ear, along with editor Bruce Nussbaum, to my rants about this gap in business press.)

You can’t become a good designer by just reading cases about it.  Would anyone employ a newly minted grad as an architect if she had never designed a building?  Or a software developer whose only exposure to code was buying things on Amazon? 

Come on BusinessWeek.  One step forward, two steps back.

3 Responses to “Design School must mean something different to BusinessWeek”

  1. Claudia

    I cannot comment on how BusinessWeek chose those programs, but there certainly is an annoying trend for magazines to list “top whatevers” that seem to be just someone’s favorites list. I have seen many a listing of “best doctors” that have some very weak links. Consumers, be wary and look for a description of whether there was objective criteria for rankings. And as Jules points out, there is no replacement for doing your own research.

    Reply
  2. avishkaar

    Hi,
    I had the same problem, and exactly the same thoughts while reading the business week feature…I really needed to have a list of top design schools in the world…do you know any source to find such a list? Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Jules Pieri

    Alas, I do not. But if you want to send me an email to jules@dailygrommet.com, maybe I can help you. I just took my son through the design school app process 18 months ago, so I know some about the domestic schools.

    Reply

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