BusinessWeek has a great piece on how the business world is turning to designers to help solve their complex problems through innovation vs. drawn out strategization. In short, more doing—less talking. From the piece here is great comparison between the B-School way and the "D-School" way:
"A B-school class would have started with a focus on market size and used financial analysis to understand it. This D-school class began with consumers and used ethnography, the latest management tool, to learn about them. Business school students would have developed a single new product to sell. The D-schoolers aimed at creating a prototype with possible features that might appeal to consumers. B-school students would have stopped when they completed the first good product idea. The D-schoolers went back again and again to come up with a panoply of possible winners."
In short, the above comparison is showing the difference between the creative process (I'm talking about design here, not the creation of a 30 second TV spot), and a strategic process which isn't engineered to support designing, testing, validating and re-designing. That's not how B-school works (unless they are teaming up with designers).
Prototyping is small tool in the arsenal of a bigger design + business strategy. But it's increasingly becoming relevant even outside the areas of product design. Marketers need to understand the value of this kind of mindset. It's especially relevant within the Social Network which does not work well with a traditional marketing plan. Testing the waters with social media requires a plan that doesn't end (if you can even call that a plan)—similar to prototyping, you design, develop, test and make adjustments, you re-launch and measure—then tweak. It's an iterative process focused on designing a variety of solutions vs. the static nature of a traditional marketing plan.
I worked on a project where we were tasked with innovating the entire online online auto insurance quote process. Rather than talk about all the ways we wanted it to be different, we designed, built and tested a pseudo-working version of it. This is not an area that Marketing strategists have been trained in. You only learn these skills as a designer, whether it's software, Web or other. It's creative problem solving, not strategic analysis. There's a big difference.
Another quote from the article:
"What characterizes the best D-schools and design programs? First, they are multidisciplinary. They combine engineering, business, design, and social sciences. They team-teach using groups of professors and outside professionals. And they teach students who are organized in groups to operate as teams.
Second, they can be found in both D-schools and B-schools, plus the growing number of joint ventures between the two. B-schools are adding design course tracks. Engineering schools are opening innovation centers. Classical design schools are adding business components.
Third, D-school grads are special. Call them hybrids or polymaths, they are people with both extraordinary depth in a field and the breadth of knowledge to apply it. "A lot of companies have multidisciplinary teams -- marketing people, engineers, designers, strategists. But having all those parts embedded in one person's brain -- that really puts you over the edge in terms of being able to innovate," says Colleen Murray, an IIT Institute of Design graduate at innovation strategy firm Jump Associates."
So the magic formula seems to be tight integration between business and design teams. B-schools are integrating some design thinking while D-schools encourage designers to be generalists—not fine artists. Again, a distinction to be made here. The D-schools mentioned in this report do not produce copywriters, illustrators and photographers (this doesn't mean that these skills aren't valuable—they are). However, what these schools are focusing on is the production of critical "design thinkers". Individuals who look at solving complex business problems through strategic and innovative creativity. And it's not just admirable aesthetics or stunning architecture—it could be designing a better water treatment facility or coming up with the next Flickr killer.
Guess the bottom line is that it's a good time to be a designer. And it's a great time to be enrolled in a respectable program (though it should be noted that learning on the job is just as valid, if not more applicable). But if you're on the business (or creative) side and still think design is about pretty pictures or even products—think again.