The Germans get it – a new d-school

A new design-business school in German is beginning to get noticed – the Zollverein School of Management and Design. The school was featured in the latest online conversation of the NextDesign Leadership Institute in New York – NextD Journal. According to the conversation “Think NewB+NewD: Understanding the New Zollverein School” with the schools founder, Prof. Dr. Ralph Bruder:

The whole project of founding a new school started in 1999 as part of a larger program to transform a former coal mining complex in the western part of Germany into a leading international location for design, art and culture. This coal mine (named Zeche Zollverein) is very special for the region, not least because it became part of the UNESCO World Heritage list in December, 2001, and is a symbol of the rise and fall of a complete industrial branch. But also Zollverein represents the necessity for an imaginative restart in an area with a high rate of unemployment. So the European Union, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the city of Essen decided to give a total of 110 million euros from 2002-2007 to not only preserve the historic place, but to revitalize it with a focus on creative businesses.
In 1999, the idea was born that a new school is needed at the Zollverein area that can work as a stimulator for creating new jobs in the so-called creative business sector.
The following three years were spent writing proposals to get public funding, creating a network of academics and practitioners to support the idea of the school and looking for an appropriate organizational structure for this new school. Finally in December, 2003, the Zollverein School of Management and Design was founded as a private institution for teaching and doing research in the field of business and design.
The purpose of the Zollverein School is to create a platform for the mutual exchange between the often separated fields of business and design. At the Zollverein School, managers become familiar with the views and ways of thinking of designers or architects and vice versa. Both sides move away from their traditional viewpoints and link their activities to create innovative and sustainable strategies for future businesses.
What makes the Zollverein School very special and unique is that it is neither a business school nor a design school, but rather an institution where those different disciplines define a space of mutual respect
. . . .
The Zollverein School becomes more and more attractive as well for professionals who have no basic education in any design-related disciplines, but who feel that understanding design processes and adapting design methods might be helpful for their future professional careers.

The school is positioning itself squarely in the MBA tradition, even participating in the World MBA Tour, a join international recruiting tour of top MBA schools. There are also special doctoral programs in design science offered with other universities. The first group of MBAs will graduate this September.
While this is not “unique” (meaning one and only), it is certainly unusual and cutting edge — like the Stanford d-school. It may be unique for Europe, however. We have a fairly good sense where the Stanford grads will end up. Where the German students will go is unclear. Given that the MBA is taught in English, they could go anywhere. Some of the current students are apparently coming from large European companies – such as Deutsche Telekom. But my perception is that the larger companies – which dominate the European economies – are not necessarily open to or enthusiastic about or see the need for such an innovative degree. It will be worth tracking where the graduates end up. That will give us a good leading indicator of what countries, and companies, truly do get it.
It will also be worth tracking to see if the school sparks any development of the local economy. As it founder stated, the government’s purpose in supporting this endeavor was to revitalize the area with a focus on creative businesses. It is standard wisdom that universities serve as a key economic development catalyst. That has been true in numerous examples (i.e. Silicon Valley). But there are also numerous counter examples. Other elements must be present as well.
Officials in the area understand that economic re-development will take a concerted effort — and have been making that effort. Essen and the Ruhr area has been named the European Cultural Capital 2010 and has taken the motto “Transformation through Culture – Culture through Transformation”. Numerous cultural/creative projects are underway or planned as part of this activity.
Watching the Essen experiment in preparing for the I-Cubed Economy (and the development of the Zollverein School) should prove to be very enlightening.

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