CEOs Toe-dip Into Design

What would Herman Miller do?

Course: Managing Product Design and Development


When: October 30-November 2, 2005

Instructor: Walter Herbst

Class Size: 30 to 40

Where: Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Evanston, Illinois

Cost: $4,500

Mission: To give executives the tools to compete in a design-driven world.


Call it art appreciation for the business set. New to Kellogg this fall is a three-day course that aims to give executives a chance to wrap their arms around design in business. The animating idea is to get the “suits” to try on a designer’s mind-set. “Designers are pretty loose people, because they need to start out with an open mind,” says course instructor Walter Herbst. That’s the hardest lesson for execs, he says: Managers become a barrier to creativity when they impose their own solutions to problems. He suggests stating the problem first, then brainstorming fixes with others. Run a “What would _____ do?” check, using a variety of characters — anyone from Walt Disney to Russell Simmons — to attack the problem from unusual angles and generate lots of ideas. There’s never one right answer with designers, just different ways of doing things. Learn to deal with it.

Student evaluation: Jim Boda studied under Herbst while getting his master’s degree in product development from Northwestern’s school of engineering, the program upon which this course is based. Shortly after graduation, he designed and started Flip Clip, a garage storage system. Herbst’s overview on intellectual property altered Boda’s approach in developing Flip Clip. “We found that there was no brand recognition in the category we were going into,” he says. So he designed the product’s name, logo, and look to enhance Flip Clip’s ergonomics and functionality, allowing it to stand out and receive valuable trademark protection.

Want to go?

Can’t go? Herbst recommends Creating Breakthrough Products, by Jonathan Cagan and Craig M. Vogel (Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2002).