Why designers should study an MBA
“If you’re not getting outside of your comfort zone, then you’re not growing” – Chad E. Foster
From design school to business studies
After spending seven years in design-related roles, I am now studying strategy, organisational behaviour, finance, economics and marketing among other subjects as part of the Full-time MBA. This wasn’t an easy or smooth progression for someone caught up in the construct of the dominant right brain.
A degree in textile design prepared me for careers ranging from fashion and lifestyle to digital communication—and I explored each opportunity. Working across apparel exports, retail and e-commerce sectors, I found myself gravitating towards the operations and management side of the activities.
Parallelly, my side hustle with a consulting firm exposed me to the concepts of business. This kindled entrepreneurial aspirations in me and I decided to launch my fashion label. I built and ran the venture in partnership, learning on the job and relying on intuitive decisions.
As I navigated the challenges of running a business, the idea of taking up a formal business education got planted in my head. After contemplating pursuing my studies for about two years, I finally embarked on my B-School adventure.
That has been my journey from being a design graduate to an MBA candidate. I’d encourage people from a design background to consider an MBA even if your journey has been nothing like mine. Here’s why:
Advancing on the ladder
Technology has disrupted almost every industry, paving the way for design roles across all sectors.
Traditionally, the career graph of a person pursuing design plateaued after stepping into the role of a senior designer. But this is no longer the case. Chief Design Officer is now a key role in many big companies and designers are finding a place in the C-suite. Today, a vast majority of C-level executives at successful startups are required to get involved in design decisions.
Top consulting firms are entering the design consulting space. This is because design-led companies are performing measurably better in terms of brand awareness, customer retention and even sales.
There is a skill gap that needs to be filled in order to leverage these opportunities. Designers can’t be expected to make strategic decisions equipped only with a sound sense of colors, shapes, patterns, aesthetics, materials, and design tools and design courses don’t teach any of the business skills required to go beyond a certain level on the corporate ladder.
We live in the age of deep generalists with expertise in one or more areas. That is where an MBA plays a powerful role. It helps designers learn skills such as competitive strategy, business analytics, effective communication, number crunching, making sense of elaborate spreadsheets and understanding design in a bigger scheme of things.
Another reason for designers to invest in an MBA is that it provides a fantastic opportunity to explore other industries and can help facilitate a career switch.
Burnout is a common and real struggle for people working in creative industries. Coupled with growth stagnation, this can lead to high levels of dissatisfaction among designers. An MBA not only opens up a multitude of new options beyond the conventional fashion, lifestyle, communications and marketing industries but also provides skills and a launchpad to potentially make a successful transition.
Three months into my business school training, I am absolutely content with my decision of taking a break to study the Full-time MBA and strongly recommend designers from fashion, lifestyle, textiles, graphics and all other backgrounds to explore MBA as an option if you are planning your next career move.
An MBA is not reserved to people from analytical and trade backgrounds. Do not be discouraged to apply to the Business School; more and more programmes are selecting candidates from design backgrounds to prepare the workforce of the future. Spend time finding an MBA that aligns with your goals and it will be worth your while.