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The Biggest Challenges for Students of Design

12/18/2012 03:51 pm ET | Updated Feb 17, 2013

Creating a new idea and turning it into a product people need, want, or desire is part of a designer's normal workday. Acquiring the skills and eventually becoming an expert in designing products is a lifelong challenge and this crucial foundation is built in our design schools. We asked creative professionals around the world: "What is design students' biggest challenge?" Over a few weeks time, we received over fifty comments and have listed the key insights gained.

The biggest challenge for design students is learning the business side of design. The product chair of a leading design school shared that designers do not realize the need to own the business objectives and to really make them their own. This takes empathy with users and critical thinking throughout the whole business strategy and business model process to ensure action occurs. Without this empathy in place, designers, in effect, represent a moral hazard and only when this paradigm shift has occurred does the rest of design matter.

After accepting responsibility and accountability for a design project, the first challenge for students is framing the challenge and understanding it in a specific context. Studies of students show that writing a design brief alone, independent of how good it is, increases performance by 12 percent, while high performing students obtain a 25 percent performance increase from brief writing over average students. Those with superior briefs in industry have shown that by increasing focus on strategic issues, design performance goes up thirty percent. All a brief really requires is that one invests a half to a full day's effort co-creating a focused framework for the challenge in a 500-1,500 word document.

The second challenge is for design students to adopt and internalize a creative process that allows them to move from business objective through the research phases, enabling them to consistently synthesize novel and useful concepts. A consistent process here is key, since 35 to 40 percent of new consumer products fail in the market, making synthesizing concepts the second, equally important skill. At the end of the day, no matter how much planning, research and analysis one does, if it does not result in social, environmental and viable concepts, further development is senseless.

The third challenge is in communicating and negotiating design solutions with the stakeholders. As opposed to other disciplines, such as accounting and engineering, everyone has an opinion about design, without necessarily understanding why. Designers need to move the conversation beyond "Like it" or "Hate it," which is an oversimplification upon which even design experts cannot agree. Instead, educate decision-makers on the Design Quality Criteria that act as indicators for success and how these have been addressed in the concept.

Finally, developing design leadership is essential to position and differentiate a product offering in the red ocean of fierce competition or in establishing a new blue ocean where the company can experience sustainable growth. To attain design leadership, designers need to engage and add value up front in the early business phases by assisting in the formulation of design strategies, synthesizing business models and planning the required action steps. Only when this is done, can a product truly be said to be: "designed."