Club Corner

Grand Designs

For most HBS students, the term “design thinking” conjures memories of the IDEO case study and accompanying shopping cart video, DASH Day and long afternoons in the Innovation Lab (I-Lab) piecing together viable FIELD II ideas.  However, for ECs Jeremy Schreiber and Matt Guilford, design thinking extends far beyond new RC curriculum components.

“The way that HBS is structured is you need these core ‘horizontal’ skills regardless of what industry vertical you’re in, skills like marketing, operations and finance,” Guilford said.  “We and a lot of others at HBS share the belief that design-led innovation is potentially one of those horizontals on par with the others.”

Indeed, Schreiber and Guilford believe design thinking has the potential to function as crucial glue, forging a bond between disciplines, regardless of the particular industry.

“A lot of this is just building an understanding,” Schreiber said.  “Forget the fact that engineering and business don’t communicate—there’s often an open dislike between the two sides replica watches.  So much of this is trying to facilitate the understanding of how multidisciplinary and cross-functional it is at the very heart of it.  It applies to any industry, consulting, finance, product design or otherwise.”

Beyond its inherent focus on innovation, design thinking also encourages deep collaboration across various schools at Harvard, both of which are important priorities for shaping the future of the school, as emphasized by Dean Nitin Nohria.

“We viewed this as something where it was relevant not just for HBS, but beyond,” Guilford said.  “We started talking to folks at the Graduate School of Design (GSD) early in the process, because we were committed to making this a collaborative endeavor.”

Arriving in Boston with no formal design experience—Guilford came to HBS from the public sector and Schreiber was an engineer—the two discovered a mutual interest in design thinking during Analytics and put the discipline’s hands-on approach to the test during November of their RC year, organizing a “test the waters” talk by IDEO local partner and HBS alum Rodrigo Martinez.  Despite a conflicting company presentation schedule and no official advertising through the MBA calendar, the event drew 75 intrigued attendees and confirmed broader interest in design thinking.

“The high-level rationale was that if you believe [design thinking] is a powerful tool for driving innovation and you believe the world needs more innovative solutions, the question for us was, ‘What are you going to do about it?’” Guilford said.

The obvious answer for the pair was to push forward with official club registration, a process completed in January 2012 with extensive support from HBS faculty and staff, including I-Lab Director Gordon James and Professors Karim Lakhani, Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Srikant Datar, among others.  Beginning with 50 members, the club has grown rapidly, reaching nearly 150 today.

Roughly twelve months after the ink dried on the club’s official charter, Guilford and Schreiber, along with considerable help from conference co-chairs and RCs Rick McMullen and Jonathan Arena and co-founders of the Design Thinking Group at the GSD Miriam Roure and Pablo Roquero, executed a two-day event, the first annual Harvard-wide xDesign Conference, attracting over 400 students, business professionals and design enthusiasts.

“If you’ve been to an HBS conference, you know the traditional path is keynote, speaker, speaker, keynote, speaker, speaker, keynote,” Schreiber said.  “We wanted to disseminate a ton of information that way, but design is also very hands-on, so from the beginning, we wanted to explore how we could design a different conference.”

In drinking its own design thinking kool-aid, the club’s leadership created a unique dual-track structure where some of conference’s attendees listened to more traditional speaker panels while others participated in a hands-on, full-day design challenge, working in cross-functional teams of six-to-eight alongside famed industry experts like Continuum CEO Harry West.

“The best part of the conference to me was instead of having a final keynote presentation, two challenge teams got up on the stage in Burden and presented their work so you can see just how powerful design thinking can be,” Schreiber said.  “It was honest and raw—it really showed that [design thinking] is all about openness and collaboration.”

And the ultimate impact of that collaboration isn’t limited to enhanced shopping carts or a more streamlined website //

“A lot of the attention around design is around product design and physical things, but we found that one of the most powerful speakers at xDesign was from the Mayo Clinic,” Guilford said.  “She showed that this way of thinking has the potential to transform not only products, but also the way we deliver healthcare or think about education and public services.”

Note:  For more information on joining the Design Club or learning more about design thinking, please contact Jeremy Schreiber at or Matt Guilford at

March 5, 2013
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