Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Main Content

Business Design Initiative

Business Design is a learning system for managers and leaders that changes how businesses innovate. Developed and taught at the Rotman School, it is a unique approach that sets us apart from our peers.

Leaders need Business Design

Business Design aims to answer the key question for both business and business leaders: how to adapt to a changing environment. Because firms that stay the course, offering the same product or service, are unlikely to succeed in the future. They must evolve to survive.

Business Design applies the methods of Design Thinking, among other traditional business tools, to change how organizations function. It gives managers and leaders the confidence and ability to think of the future, and shape it – for the better.

More than an approach, it is a learning platform in which design thinking plays. Consider the ‘lean’ Toyota production system, which suggested a new way forward for how a business could function – and changed manufacturing forever. In a similar way, Business Design is a learning system for managers and leaders that changes how businesses innovate. It is the antidote to the stagnation that is the death of any enterprise.

“The (Business Design) approach gave us a valuable perspective on our organization and generated solutions that were refreshing; not just more of the same.” 

Global Business Services, Proctor and Gamble Canada


What sets Rotman apart

Rotman is the only place where design tools are applied across organizations, at every level. As a human-centred approach, it effectively breaks down the siloes of typical business functions. Instead of focusing on b2b or b2c, it foregrounds the needs of all the stakeholders, across the value chain. The methods and tools of the designer are applied to everything from organizational charts to marketing plans, from strategy to finance.

In most universities, the focus is on Design Thinking, typically associated with designers, and located in the engineering faculty, or a design school. At Harvard, for example, design is taught at the school of architecture. Even in cases when Design Thinking is applied to business, it is usually at the lower levels of seniority, in service and product design. Too often, it becomes a team-building exercise in post it notes, with limited impact.

While other schools have developed expertise in Design Thinking, none have connected the dots between design and design's value. Rotman is the only place where it is located at the heart of a business school, squarely inside the hallways. And these tools are used in the context of a full awareness of how business operates.


A better solution

The greatest problem in business is often identified as a lack of creative ideas. Yet those ideas can only be as good as the problems that have been defined and articulated.

In Design Thinking, the emphasis is on a ‘bias toward action’. In Business Design, there is a bias toward strategic action. That goes beyond using the tools of the designer to understanding the intent behind those tools – the big picture. It is a form of deeper learning that profoundly shapes the ability of our graduates to think, act and innovate – and transforms the impact they have on the world.

© Rotman School of ManagementAASCB