Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

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Our Approach

What is Business Design and how is it taught?

Business Design is a human-centred approach to innovation. It applies the principles and practices of design to help organizations create new value and new forms of competitive advantage. At its core, Business Design is the integration of customer empathy, experience design and business strategy.

The Business Design approach to innovation aims to combine the best of design thinking and strategy. Sustainable growth comes from the development and implementation of new-to-the-world ideas, but innovation of this kind is almost impossible without an actionable framework and tools for creative thinking.

The Three Gears of Business Design provides the framework and tools for:

  1. Understanding Customers – innovation begins with an unmet customer need. Customers often lack tools to articulate their own needs, and standard market research methodologies only scratch the surface. Students learn new tools for engaging deeply with customers and understanding them in new and meaningful ways.

  2. Generating and Testing Ideas – turning unmet needs into innovation. This is about creating new ideas, getting customer feedback and doing rapid testing to get to a better solution. Students learn tools and techniques for ideation and prototyping.

  3. Connecting to Strategy – New ideas will fail to flourish if they aren’t backed by a sound strategy, including a clear set of choices of how the organization is going to win. Our students connect their ideas to the model of strategy articulated by Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley in Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works.

Business Design helps organizations explore new possibilities in very tangible ways, and ultimately make better decisions that are customer-centric, holistic, collaborative and innovative.

Wondering which organizations value this approach to innovation?


  • Procter & Gamble
  • SAP
  • GE
  • AirBnb

World Class Innovation and Design Firms:

  • IDEO
  • SYPartners
  • MAYA Design
  • Ziba Design
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