MBA Programs with an Emphasis on Design

I’m in the midst of applying to business school towards getting an MBA. But here’s the deal: I’ve spent years reading about the convergence of design and business, but I’ve seen little of schools making an effort to tailor their programs into this niche. So for all of you interested, I’ve started to compile a list of MBA programs that are developing this niche of MBAs in Design Strategy.

Fortunately for me, I live in San Francisco. This might be one of the only places where a design MBA can be had. Technically, there is only one choice here: at the California College of the Arts. Their program is described as so:

The MBA in Design Strategy equips students to lead organizations from the unique perspective of design thinking. By uniting the studies of design, finance, strategy, and sustainability, we provide the tools to manage in today’s interconnected markets with a vision of business as sustainable, meaningful, ethical, profitable, and truly innovative.

This is the school I’m targeting for a number of reasons. First, there are very few programs of its kind. Their emphasis is strictly to merge design and business together, and they do so in a studio setting which is a comfortable environment for me, the architect, who works well with design tools at hand to solve business problems. Second, their schedule is flexible enough so that I can keep my job. They only meet four full days per month which means ( if I don’t get laid off) that I can work around my schooling. But there are other interesting programs emerging.

Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design is now offering a dual degree program which is a Masters of Design / MBA. Here’s what they say about their program:

The dual degree program integrates the Institute of Design’s user-centered, methods-based approach to innovation with core management education in marketing, project accounting, organizational behavior and the like from IIT’s Stuart School of Business. This course of study provides students with a unique and powerfully broad perspective on the innovation process. Upon graduation, MDes/MBA graduates are uniquely well qualified to lead collaborative, interdisciplinary, global innovation organizations.

The beauty of this degree, after quickly scanning their information, is if you do not have a design background then you will quickly get one because they cover the fundamental skills of design before stepping foot into a more traditional business class. This means several more courses to the finish line than if you had a design background. But quite frankly, I would feel all students would benefit from more design training if they’ve been away from school for a while.

Another intriguing program is at the Stanford Business School. Stanford has recently created a multidisciplinary institute called the (d is for design). The advantages of attending this MBA program are obvious, however your work with the Design School would be more minimal in this program since Standford emphasizes the fundamentals. The disadvantages are also obvious: you won’t get in unless you’re a brainiac.

More schools:

  • Kendall College of Art and Design- Grand Rapids, MI (think Steelcase): “The MBA with a Design and Innovation Management concentration within Ferris State University’s Master of Business Administration program prepares its graduates for leadership positions in design-centered businesses. The program provides students a comprehensive understanding of the ways in which the method, measure, and language of design drive the practice of business and the process of innovation and teaches them how to cultivate and build a culture of innovation within their organization”
  • The Rotman School-Toronto, Canada: “Whether the goal is to develop new products or services, create new ways of marketing to customers, or reinvent an entire business model, ‘design thinking’ helps get bigger ideas, faster and more efficiently. We believe the mindset and methods behind great design are the same ingredients for successful Business Design. By incorporating the ‘design experience’ into our curriculum, we offer students a unique and valuable opportunity to learn new ways to tackle complex challenges in deeper and more holistic ways.”
  • Design London: “This new venture combines creativity and expertise in design from the Royal College of Art, engineering from Imperial College’s Faculty of Engineering and the business of innovation from Imperial College Business School. It was established following the Cox Review: Creativity in Business that highlighted the need to stir together the scientific, engineering, business and creative design communities to enhance business and public sector innovation.”
  • Suffolk University- Boston, MA: “The Executive MBA with Concentration in Innovation and Design Management was created specifically for the design professional seeking the business acumen necessary to manage design-driven innovation. Our unique 21-month Saturday only format allows you to earn your Executive MBA without interrupting your career.”

If you know of more programs I should include, then please comment the blog, and I will put the information up.

2 Responses to “MBA Programs with an Emphasis on Design”
  1. Eli says:

    So true. I am facing the same challenges now, almost three years later. Where did you end up going? How was it? Any advice for someone in a similar predicament?
    Great site. Really enjoy the products you feature here.

  2. julianafonnegra says:


    Do you have any updated info? Im a business graduate with experience in marketing and interest in design and design management. I’m not sure if what’s best for me is an MBA or a more specialized program in design.