I’ve gotten this question from students and others entering the field a few times, and frankly still ponder it for my own purposes, so I’m going to lay down some thoughts on it here.
The question is:
I’m very passionate about pursuing design strategy and bridging the gap between developing engaging user experiences (product side) with the economics/marketing/strategy (business side).
The way the question is framed is telling. 99% of us still think of business and design as separate concepts. And all the Fast Company cover stories aren’t going to change managers’ attitudes for several years.
If we acknowledge these concepts have not been bridged already, we can expand this question to ask “In what kind of situation can I experience the sort of personal growth necessary to learn what I need” as well as “What kind of organizations will have greater success in bridging these concepts?”
To know where to work to experience personal fulfillment requires knowing what companies will have some success in this area. And that requires knowing what clients these companies are likely to have. Taking a client-centered approach I ask who is this client? Maybe it’s Steve Jobs, because although he already does it better than the rest of us he might want a staff that can do what he does. It’s not a manager at a conservative company, because he won’t experiment with new approaches. Probably the client is someone who has a need for a new approach, is open to learning on the job, but can’t do it herself.
So what sort of business designer will be more likely to service this client? Let’s go through the usual suspects:
Design firms: Have creativity credentials, but not necessarily the business rigor needed to help the client feel comfortable experimenting with her budget.
Management consultancies: Have business credentials, but aren’t positioned well to sell the more customer-focused, qualitative, creative approaches to the work.
21st Century firms: For lack of a better term, these are firms that are relatively new but started with this sort of challenge in mind. At MIG we attacked this problem head on, did some great work, but as a new, small firm faced a tough business development environment — if business and design are still two different concepts, selling them as one ain’t easy. Others like Jump Associates do great work and thrive, I suspect, because they emphasize a traditionally-valued competency, like customer research. Ditto for Katzenbach Partners with organizational development.
What does does that mean for the person wanting to learn and do business design? I’d say look for 1) a firm committed to developing this offering, and 2) a firm that emphasizes a competency that parallels your interests.