What is design leadership?

Design leadership represents a new frontier in the business world. Basically, it’s a field that aims to help enterprises maximize the potential and business value of great design. But what does that mean?

There are many ways to define design leadership, but its connection with human outcomes comes up over and over again. Muzli defines it as “the art of impassioning, mobilizing, and developing people to craft experiences that improve human outcomes.”

This concept comes to life in our conversation with Chris Schilder. Working as a Senior Manager for Marriott International, Chris describes his job as “basically [looking] at what [we’re doing] at our hotels and how [we can] do it better, from both the associate standpoint as well as the customer experience.” (00:13)

The design leadership program curriculum

Chris completed his MA/MBA in Design Leadership in 2017, which is run as a partnership between John Hopkins University (JHU) and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). 

Chris describes how studying at the two different institutions was a huge advantage because “it was two different schools that had completely different skill sets, partnerships, faculty, and connections between different industries.” (00:42)

When you study the MA/MBA in Design Leadership at JHU and MICA, you’ll be committing to two years and 66 credits of diverse courses. They can be split into three categories:

  • MBA Business Foundations (corporate finance, and strategic management)
  • MBA Electives (entrepreneurial ventures, marketing strategy, and social media analytics)
  • MA in Design Leadership (foundations of design leadership, creativity and innovation, and the intersections of business and design)

In addition, you have the option to choose an MBA specialization, although it’s not mandatory.

Once you’ve completed your degree, you’ll actually receive two degrees, one from John Hopkins University and another from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Chris’s path to design leadership

Chris wasn’t always planning to study design leadership. In fact, he ended up working for the Marriott and starting his MA/MBA because of his former boss. This goes to show how professional connections and networking can truly foster unexpected and exciting opportunities.

“What brought me here to Marriott was the fact that my former boss was very interested in the program herself,” he explains. “She wanted to bring people from the program into Marriott because she really appreciated the design understanding as well as the business acumen.” (00:25)

Design skills and business acumen make a powerful combination

The powerful combination of design skills and business acumen is not something that’s seen every day. That’s because traditional MBA programs typically focus on classic business competencies. Unless an MBA student has a design background in their own right, they won’t likely get exposed to that combination of skills in their studies.

As you can see, the unique experience and knowledge that Chris gained through his MA/MBA in Design Leadership made him a perfect fit to work for the Marriott. This is because working in hotel management requires specialized skills both on the business side and the customer-facing side.

It’s gratifying to see the potential of design leadership professionals like Chris come to fruition. There are so many businesses, from start-ups to large enterprises like the Marriott, that can benefit from great design leadership. It will be exciting to see how this specialization develops.