Written by Ali Akbar Sahiwala and Haenah Chun
On October 30th, Pratt Institute’s Design Management (DM) second year students hosted an Alumni Panel Discussion Series at Koroseal’s Studio K Showroom, located at the Design & Decorators Building, NYC. The aim of the event was to capture insights of alumni who serve as creative professionals actively working to bridge design and business strategy. The Pratt DM program is a rigorous two-year graduate program tailored to develop creative leaders, who can collaborate to create sustainable strategic advantage using a Triple Bottom Line by Design plus Culture (TBLD+C) framework. Pratt DM has been generating leaders within the creative economies since its first graduating class in 1998.
The panel of four Pratt DM graduates shared how they consciously demonstrate strategic design management practices in their careers. The panelists included: Howard Allen, Creative Manager at CBRE; Lydia Hummel, Class of 2009, Senior Executive for Creative Strategy and Operations at Converse; Rachel Starobinsky, Class of 2011, Design Strategist Co-Lead at TPG Architecture and Managing Director of Architecture for Humanity’s New York Chapter; and Edwin Kuo, Class of 2012, Design Strategist; Print and Digital Producer at Arnold NY. The panel was moderated by Jahnvi Manek, Class of 2013, and hosted by Yvette Santiago, Class of 2014.
While each panelist expressed different challenges faced while in school and now in their work environments, all agreed that their roles allow them to uniquely contribute as crucial decision makers in business planning and as global connectors. Lydia highlighted that her learning in DM has helped define her role at Converse, by enabling her to effectively communicate with people across the corporate hierarchy, from varied disciplines. Howard explained that in working at two of the largest companies in their respective industries (PricewaterhouseCoopers in professional services and CBRE in real estate), he held distinct and valuable positions at both companies. He was able to flex his skills and leverage his credibility to the unique needs of each company.
One challenge DM graduates must address is learning how to effectively communicate how their distinct perspectives will benefit companies beyond traditional roles. According to Howard, of crucial importance in managing this is how we leverage our skill sets and design management “toolkit.” Rachel supported this point by emphasizing the need for a wide range of strategic vocabulary and flexibility of communication styles, dependent on the audience. Rachel also challenged us to think about the way we communicate the value we bring. She suggests developing a short, tweet-able personal elevator pitch, in order to market ourselves in a clear, concise way and to spark deeper conversation in networking environments.
When it comes to the job search, panelists highlighted several points that they found particularly useful. They advised that, first, we must confidently position and promote ourselves as if we are individual organizations with a strong personal brand. This can help us to effectively market our skills as creative advocates for the value of design strategy. Second, we need to conduct our own initial research, targeting companies that could benefit from our specialized skill sets. Third, graduates must actively engage and build their network with people currently working in the industries that they are targeting. A surprisingly effective method is to schedule short informational meetings with organizations of interest to learn about their work and their perspective on their industry. These efforts should start early, beginning with the network of classmates and alumni.
Given the rapid developments taking place worldwide such as technological advancements, ecological crises and economic changes, the future will increasingly depend on how successfully people across industries work together. As such, understanding and applying design management in the real world can contribute to a positive reconnection, as emphasized by the panelists. As panelist Edwin explained, the DM program changed his life for the better, improving his strategic capabilities, honing his communication skills and ultimately allowing him to build greater self-confidence. Such achievements exemplify how DM is a valuable tool that can equip the creative leaders of tomorrow.