It’s that easy: Writing your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day!

February 3rd, 2006

Once in a while students ask me for my advice prior to starting their master thesis. Questions usually comprise issues on formal requirements, writing style, research methodologies or time planning.

While there is a broad range of literature on the market I would like to present my top 3 list of books addressing the issues mentioned above. Throughout the years they’ve all helped my with my own academic writing as well. So here it goes:

  • Joan Bolker: Writing your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day:

“Dissertation writers need strong, practical advice, as well as someone to assure them that their struggles aren’t unique. Joan Bolker, midwife to more than one hundred dissertations and co-founder of the Harvard Writing Center, offers invaluable suggestions for the graduate-student writer. Using positive reinforcement, she begins by reminding thesis writers that being able to devote themselves to a project that truly interests them can be a pleasurable adventure. She encourages them to pay close attention to their writing method in order to discover their individual work strategies that promote productivity; to stop feeling fearful that they may disappoint their advisors or family members; and to tailor their theses to their own writing style and personality needs. Using field-tested strategies she assists the student through the entire thesis-writing process, offering advice on choosing a topic and an advisor, on disciplining one’s self to work at least fifteen minutes each day; setting short-term deadlines, on revising and defing the thesis, and on life and publication after the dissertation. Bolker makes writing the dissertation an enjoyable challenge.” (Book description with credits to

  • Robert Yin: Case Study Research: Design and Methods:

“Robert Yin’s comprehensive presentation covers all aspects of the case study method–from problem definition, design, and data collection, to data analysis and composition and reporting. Yin also traces the uses and importance of case studies to a wide range of disciplines, from sociology, psychology and history to management, planning, social work, and education.” (Book description with credits to

  • Wolf Schneider: Deutsch fürs Leben:

“Für Journalisten ist professionelles Schreiben so wichtig wie der Schraubenschlüssel für den Schlosser. Was ihr oberster Sprachlehrer Wolf Schneider sagt, kann jeder nutzen, der professionell schreiben will — und das funktioniert offenbar: Seine Lehrbücher sind Bestseller.” … “Kampfschrift wider den Sprachschluder ist auch Deutsch fürs Leben, das abschreckende Beispiele, vornehmlich von renommierten Publikationen, vortrefflich vorführt. Ein lebendiges, nützliches und — das darf man erwarten — sprachlich brillantes Buch, um das niemand herumkommt, der professionell schreiben will. –Frank Rosenbauer” (credits go to

If you have any suggestions for other books which have helped you and which you might find useful please or leave a comment for this posting by clicking on “comments” below this posting.

Move forward - Who needs your gift now?

February 2nd, 2006

As my previous posting is indicating there’s a life after the MBA ;-) and I’ve had interesting discussions with some students about their plans after finishing their MBA by the end of this year.

Interestingly previous experiences with students from other design management programmes as well showed that engagement in post graduate programmes like the MBA here at Zollverein School very often leads to resigning the current position and a quest for new challenges (not necessarily outside the organization). While this may sound initially worrying it demonstrates the impact of such programmes in terms of what good content can stimulate …

One good advice in order to make this process as smooth as possible is to start thinking about these transitions early on. Again it’s Canada’s Dave Pollard who provides some excellent ideas (and accordingly illustrations) in his posting called “Who Needs Your Gift Now?” on:

“… (the) need to find or create the job where What We Do Well, What is Needed and What We Love Doing overlap.”

David’s posting from Jan. 21st called “Finding Where Your Passion, Your Genius and Your Purpose Meet” refines this model by adding some relevant self-check questions in order to help you focusing on the right projects and goals. Here is his list:

  • Does it pay enough?
  • Do you have time for it?
  • Is your ability recognized?
  • Is your ability appreciated?
  • Is the need recognized?
  • Is the need recognized?

However very often you feel as if you’re captured by your own frameworks, thinking in the same direction (for years) and hanging out with the same old people (for a long time). Therefore one first step to break out is to look for places and spaces where to find new inspiration. These can be conferences which you find interesting as well as cultural events in general.

For professionals from the creative industries the annual DMI conferences in Europe and North America are clearly a good choice to meet folks like you. However very often these events have the character of entering a somehow “closed community”.

Therefore recent fresh initiatives like the Design 2.0 one-day symposium to held by mid February and organized by CORE77 & BusinessWeek might be a good alternative.

Finally an event I’ve never attended, but of which I’ve simply heard so much positive feedback is “InnoTown” an annual event to be held in Norway. I definitively wish to attend this conference one day … any sponsors out there? ;-) This description is from their website:

“InnoTown is Innovation Norway´s annual innovation conference. It is a truly unusual business conference for people who want to open up to the new opportunities that lie beyond the traditionally tried and tested.

The aim of InnoTown is to move people’s minds, both rationally and emotionally; to inspire and enhance creativity and innovation, to help motivate people to think new thoughts and dare to fail – to succeed.

The conference emphasizes vision, inspiration, strategy, creativity, promotion and internationalization. It creates good relations between people from different countries, trades, environments and professions. This results in stimulating new ideas and the developing, deepening and widening of existing knowledge and values.”

So if you’d wish to expand your current or build new networks this might be a great opportunity to combine a business conference with some vacation in the mid of Norway. My favorites among this year’s presenters are:

  • Guy Kawasaki: Managing Director, Garage Technology Ventures, and former Apple Computer evangelist. Palo Alto, USA
  • Rowan Gibson: Business Strategist / Author /Expert on Radical Rethinking, Essen, Germany
  • Polly LaBarre: Author, “Mavericks at Work” and former senior editor Fast Company magazine, New York, USA

Any other events you can imagine which might help you to think out of the box?

MBA and now? Go to India!

January 31st, 2006

I’ve already written some pieces about the growing importance of India and China on this blog recently. A few minutes ago David Griffiths, a friend of mine from the design management context and a lecturer at the Zollverein School send me this email:

“The firm is Idiom - [job roles are listed on the site under “Careers”] - please copy this email to anyone who maybe interested in working in India with a Top 5 Design Consultancy.”

On idiom’s website you will find the clickable career logo on the lower end of the site and the listing reads quite impressive ranging from graphic, space to furniture design as well as project management positions.

While some jobs are looking for juniors idiom is also searching for seniors as well! May you live in interesting times …

On needs, wants, and nice-to-have’s

January 30th, 2006

Last weekend I’ve had the chance to communicate the basics about this blog to the first class of Zollverein School MBAs who will be (hopefully ;-) contributing to this blog soon and share insights about recent projects they’ve been working on.

I was lucky to arrive a little bit earlier at the Zollverein Site and I’ve been impressed about the construction progress of the new Zollverein School of management & design building. I’m really looking forward to this summer when one of Europe’s most attractive school buildings will be opened to the public as well as hosting the Zollverein School itself. As you might have noticed I’m randomly “flickring” (maybe a new verb ;-) photos about things going on here as well as some impressive shots from the building itself. If you’re not familiar with “Flickr” yet, just click on any of the radomly changing images on the right.

While waiting for my time “on stage”, I’ve grabbed the end of the session where some of the MBA class of 2006 students presented their master thesis concepts to be completed later this summer. Without digging further into details about the topics itself today (some students will post about them soon) one thing became apparent: While from a broader perspective all ideas I’ve listened to are highly interesting some of them somehow lack a clear focus on what (my highly admired ;-) Dave Pollard called: “Know What Urgent Problem You’re Uniquely Solving”!

Dave’s blog on “Business Innovation” is always a good address when you are looking for “back to basics” advice and he usually illustrates his ideas with concise charts. Quoted from his blog the latest posting is about

… ’solutions’ that are really interesting, quite feasible, and well within their area of competency, but which fail to uniquely solve an urgent problem (in the eyes of whoever is paying for it).”

and David is classifying innovative ideas and market offerings as

“needs, wants, and nice-to-have’s.”.

While this classification first reads quite generic I think it really helps you to sort out if your concept is a) relevant and b) making the right assumptions. This does not necessarily mean that ideas and concepts (particularly in the academic context) always need to address needs first, but it helps to make yourself aware how to integrate your ideas in a say larger “value chain” of ideas!

What is Design Management?

January 27th, 2006

This posting is for Annkathrin Sonn ;-), the new person in charge for Corporate Communications at the Zollverein School of management and design in Essen/Germany. Annkathrin recently joined the Zollverein School and while having a conversation with her last Tuesday I’ve learned that she’s highly interested in the intersection of business, management & design. As with everyone who’s not in too deep into the topic she finally asked for my perspective/definition on/of Design Management … ;-)

Well, somehow this is a real “killer question” since the scope of the design management (at least from my still limited ;-) profession is quite broad. Basically a good starting point to narrow down the field is to make a semantic distinction. Consequently Design Management can be a) The Management of the Design Process as well as b) The Design of the Management Process. Accordingly you can also replace the nouns with verbs resulting in: a) to manage the design process or b) to design the management process. The scope of this semantic space is comprehensive and offers many nodes to enter the domain.

After all my past experiences with business professionals as well as students entering the field showed that they mostly tend to see Design Management closely related to option a) “to manage the design process”. Interestingly this is also the dominant perspective which you will mostly find in Germany (if there is an articulated one at all ;-). This might be due to the fact that traditionally German design has always been strong in the area of product design and consequently senior designers or industrial design agencies mostly identify their responsibilities in the field of “operationally managing the design process” both internally and/or for their clients.

However like many other business disciplines design has never been a static domain as well. Today designers shape products as well as processes. In particular the emergence of digital technologies does enable designers to test and prototype processes and products long before marketing or management has considered thinking about them. And this is particularly true for all of the three main design domains: product, graphic and digital design. Consequently designers are able to raise their voice far earlier in the development process of products and services as they were used to be in the past. Therefore prototyping what actually can be done by using mock-ups, CAD Tools and even 3D empowered PDFs are powerful means to communicate the contribution and consequently value of design. Finally the early engagement of designers in the concept phase releases the design discipline from being responsible for narrowed field of styling only.

As a matter of fact this development requires designers to think about products and processes in a more holistic way as well. Earlier integration into the development process & discussion clearly requires the consideration of far more product/process stakeholders than in the past.

However let’s return to Annkathrin’s quest for a definition of Design Management. It’s almost eight years ago now that the Design Management Institute published an article called “18 views on the definition of Design Management” (DMI Journal, Summer 1998) where 18 executives from various disciplines were asked for their views on the field. As a matter of course you can clearly see the professional background from which the definitions arise (for some more quotes surf this blog), but interestingly each time I re-read the article I find a different perspective which I like most.

In the context of this posting I’ve liked the definition of Sohrab Vossughi, President of ZIBA Design most since it describes the changed level of design integration as described above quite well:

“Communication is the essence of design management. Products, uniforms, buildings, Web sites — design management can make a contribution in any area in which communication takes place. The newest frontier is process design. Designers should look beyond the conventional activities, such as packaging, graphics and product design. Designers have an important role to play in defining how companies use information. How is product information documented and communicated? How are new employees trained? How can the customer experience be simplified and refined?”

Anything to add, dear readers? ;-) What are your views or definitions?

Davos, Economics and Left & Right Brain Thinking

January 26th, 2006

As you might have recognized Bruce Nussbaum, BusinessWeek’s innovation & design blogger is currently reporting directly from the World Economic Forum in Davos:

“Attendees at this year’s meeting, which begins on Jan. 24, will see many familiar faces. But they’ll also notice an influx of people no one would have thought qualified to join a few years ago: designers. Davos 2006, in fact, is shaping up to be a very different kind of forum. In addition to the standard topics, an unprecedented 22 sessions will focus on the general theme of “Innovation, Creativity & Design Strategy.”

This is good news for the design community and this is clearly strengthing the design’s stakes at the corporate table. Finally this is also good news for “design management” or let it be “business design” MBA students as well since:

“Yet, the global management paradigm is clearly shifting from left to right brain thinking. The new management mantra of the 21st century is breakthrough innovation via creative-design thinking. It’s replacing the old business-value proposition of incremental improvement through control that’s still being taught in most B-schools and peddled by most consulting companies …”

So stay tuned (also via this blog) on how the first MBA Class of 2006 at Zollverein School will make their way from the paradigm of “control” to what I among others have characterized as “Abductive Reasoning”: Collect, Collate, Consolidate, Collaborate.

A designer is not just a craftsman. He’s also a thinker!

January 12th, 2006

If you follow the recent discussion about design in the international press there clearly is an emphasis on the growing importance of design made in Asia. Among various reasons the continuous outsourcing of labour intensive tasks to Asia say China, Taiwan or Korea for many years now brings back the aesthetics and visual language of these regions back to the western hemisphere. While in the past we’ve seen the Tiger-states mostly producing and copying western products they now manage to catch up by developing their own creative industries infrastructure in order to compete with the formerly western dominated design paradigms. This becomes quite obvious if you consider the amount of design and engineering schools now emerging in India, China, Taiwan & Korea among others. Korea is no exception here as well however one of the latest prominent examples of this turn around from being a copycat producer to a world class consumer brand is Samsung Electronics. Maybe this story among others is also fostered by the fact Korea alone has 230 design schools which is more than America! In a recent article in BusinessWeek Online you can find an interview with Lee Kun Pyo, director of the Human-Centered Interaction Design Laboratory at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology. BusinessWeek Asia Editor David Rocks and Seoul Bureau Chief Moon Ihlwan recently sat down with Lee in Seoul. One of the triggers for the interview has clearly been Samsung’s success story:

“Over the past decade, Korea’s Samsung Electronics has transformed itself from a copycat producer of uninspiring goods into one of the world’s top consumer-electronics brands. Much of that transformation is due to a shift in power at the company from engineers to designers. Samsung’s rebirth has inspired other Korean companies to place a greater emphasis on design — in fact, it has energized the country’s design community.”

However one of the key insights which underpins the importance of post graduate programmes (especially in the western hemisphere) offered at the Zollverein School as well are:

“So at that time, a designer’s problem was deciding how it should look. You needed to know how to draw. But now, companies are trying to be first in the world with innovative products. So you can’t simply rely on drawing skills. A designer is not just a craftsman. He’s also a thinker.”

Coat hangers can be sexy too …

December 1st, 2005

As you might have noticed in my previous posting the difference between the two definitions on Design Leadership is the level of abstraction.

While Design Leadership is clearly about the big issues like “strategic intent” or “strategic direction” the success rate of it manifests itself in “designed” solutions which can be “experienced” and which create economic value.

When it comes to illustrating Design Leadership it’s always easy to refer to Apple Computer. However David used a “not so cool” but quite interesting case study in order to illustrate what Design Leadership can actually mean. He referred to the UK retailer “Peacocks” selling clothing, footwear and homewear. Today Peacocks has over 425 stores throughout the UK and employs over 5000 people in the UK and and in franchises overseas in Turkey, Bahrain and UAE.

The design issue at Peacocks some years ago has been to change the design of the company’s coat hangers and re-think the stock hanging approach. To make a long story short, at the end of the project the company afforded a refit investment of a total of GBP 1.5m while being able to reduce Unit costs per hanger from 13 pence to 5 pence! Additionally the hangers could be re-used up to 6 times each. If you consider that the company has been selling some 60m items per year this resulted in considerable cost savings. Furthermore labour costs have been reduced by GBP 2m/per year which is an equivalent of 400.000 working hours simply due to a more effective box-to-hanger process. In total this project can be truly called a “success”

Interestingly this initiative hasn’t been led by any trained designers, but by a Marketing Manager at Peacocks and a Marketing Director of Plasti-Form  the manufacturer of the hangers. So what kind of insight does this short case hold for us?

Firstly, design is not exclusive to designers, but rather a question of value creation. Secondly, and this counts even more in the light of the emerging field of experience design, value creation is not limited to brand design only. Thirdly, and this has been David’s conclusion from this case:

  • Design Leadership is not just about external issues like: Brand, Product or Visuals, etc.
  • Design Leadership explicitly considers the internal focus as well like: Supply Chain, Production Process, Service Chain, Customer Experience, etc.

Consequently, the curriculum at the Zollverein School addresses both areas with equal importance.

Design Leadership

November 30th, 2005

If you follow the press on topics like design, innovation and business there are new buzzwords each and every month. However some stay apart from the buzz and “Design Leadership” certainly is such a term. Not because it’s not buzz, but rather because there are many approaches how to actually “achieve” this leadership.

David provided his stake to the discussion by giving two definitions he thinks are worthwhile to note. The first one is by Raymond Turner (today Principal of Raymond Turner Associates-Design Leadership Consultants):

“Design is the principal means by which business manifests its strategic intent … Design connects strategic intent with day-to-day business activities”

While I find this definition still quite generic David also provided his view on the topic as well:

“Design Leadership is about increasing the knowledge content and hence value added within a product or service”

Reflecting on these two definitions there are serious doubts these days if we in the western industrialized countries are still able to exercise this leadership in the light of globalization. David’s approach on how to stay ahead of the emerging economic (design) stars like China or India is to align Design Leadership to the “Triple Bottom Line” which aims to consider economic behaviour from three equally important perspectives:

  • Economic Success (Profit)
  • Environmental Success (Eco-Friendly)
  • Empowerment Success (People Friendly)

Consequently if post-graduate design education (like the Zollverein School MBA programme) aims for educating Design Leaders than it must address issues of the Triple Bottom Line as well. And it will do so for sure …

Basecamp Lecturer: David Griffiths

November 29th, 2005

Beside the trouble (see my previous posting ;-) I was pleased to attend the Sunday session of the Basecamp. Beside Rachel Smart another UK fellow held a workshop: David Griffiths. David has a close link to the creative industries for many years and he is a contributor to design education and professional practice issues.

In 1992 he joined Royal Mail to manage their Identity Programme. Between 1993-2003 he was a member of the Marketing Consultancy Practice of Royal Mail’s internal consultancy and project management organisation. After the Identity implementation programme was completed he established a design management team. In 1995 the team won the UK Design Effectiveness Award Grand Prix.

Recently David has been exploring new business opportunities particularly in India where he has established a close network to top design schools as well as creative agencies. Therefore he has been able to link his insights into design leadership not only to central Europe, but also to the emerging hot spots of industrial and communication design. Consequently his workshop has been labeled: Design Leadership – A competitive Advantage in today’s economy.

So what did we discuss in this context:

  • Design Leadership and success
  • The triple bottom line as a metric of success
  • The role of knowledge in the economy
  • How design is being re-designed (knowledge)
  • The implications for management training
  • Design Leadership’s role in economic success

Stay tuned for some more detailed postings on these issues!