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History of Business Design at Rotman

For nearly two decades, the Rotman School has been at the centre of the Business Design evolution, the game-changing effort to apply the principles and practices of design to help organizations create new value and new forms of competitive advantage.

Image: DesignWorks

How it started

The history of Business Design dates back to the early 2000s, when Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley identified innovation as key to the future success of the company. He appointed Claudia Kotchka, vice-president of design, innovation and strategy, to develop this new capability with the help of Roger Martin, then dean of the Rotman School.

In collaboration with David Kelley (founder, at Stanford University and IDEO) and Patrick Whitney (dean, IIT Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology), Martin and Kotchka developed a structured approach to innovation that could be used by both business people and designers. This approach left an indelible mark on P&G and how it practices innovation.

Realizing that business education was lacking this critical methodology, Roger and Heather Fraser, a Rotman adjunct professor, brought the learning back to the Rotman School. The goal was to teach Rotman students how to innovate by creating solutions that customers really need and pathways to competitive advantage to help the business succeed. As a result, DesignWorks, an experiential learning centre, was established to give MBA students the opportunity to learn the latest Business Design skills through hands-on practice.




  • DesignWorks pilot is launched with Professor Roger Martin (Dean) and Heather Fraser (Director)

  • Publication of “Reliability vs. Validity” by Roger Martin, in BusinessWeek Online, Innovation and Design Channel.


  • DesignWorks moves to its new offices on Prince Arthur Avenue.

  • DesignWorks completes its first industry project in partnership with Medtronic – demonstrating the effectiveness of a design approach.


  • DesignWorks completes its first public sector project with Princess Margaret Hospital redesigning the Chemotherapy Patient Experience.

  • The Business Design Practicum is introduced as an elective course in the Full-Time MBA program.

  • Innovation, Foresight and Business Design course is introduced into the MBA program.


  • Launch of the Rotman Business Design Club.

  • Introduction of the Design Thinking Speaker Series.


  • Publication of The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger Martin.


  • Introduction of the Business Design major in the Full-Time MBA program.


  • Business Design major becomes available to students in the Morning and Evening MBA programs.

  • Mayo Clinic and Doblin Bank sponsors the inaugural Global Rotman Design Challenge.

  • Publication of “You Can't Analyze Your Way to Growth” by Roger Martin in Harvard Business Review.


  • Publication of Design Works: How to Tackle Your Toughest Innovation Challenges Through Business Design by Heather Fraser.

  • Mark Leung (MBA ’06) assumes the role of director – DesignWorks.

  • TD Bank Group sponsors the Global Rotman Design Challenge.

  • DesignWorks moves to the new Rotman Building at 105 St.George St.

  • The Business Design Practicum is introduced as an elective course in the Commerce program.

  • Business Design Co-Curricular programming (Sprints, Bootcamps, Workshop) is introduced into the Full Time MBA. 


  • Publication of Rotman on Design: The Best on Design Thinking from Rotman Magazine by Roger Martin and Karen Christensen.

  • Target sponsors the Global Rotman Design Challenge. Executive Programs introduces its first course in Business Design.


  • Publication of Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin.

  • Target sponsors the Global Rotman Design Challenge. 


  • First Business Design course offered in the Executive MBA program.

  • Steelcase sponsors the Global Rotman Design Challenge.

  • The Business Design Club becomes the second largest student club at Rotman. 


  • Rotman hosts the first Service Design Network conference in Canada

  • Fidelity Labs sponsors the Global Rotman Design Challenge.

  • Dr. Alex Ryan, VP MaRS Solutions Lab and expert in Systemic Design becomes executive in residence at Rotman.


  • Bridegable launches Service Design scholarships at Rotman
  • Telus sponsors the Global Rotman Design Challenge. 


  • Dr. Angèle Beausoleil joins Rotman as the first assistant professor of business design and innovation.

  • Rotman pilots new experimental MBA courses focused on creativity, innovation and design research.

  • CIBC sponsors the Global Rotman Design Challenge.

  • Chris Ferguson, former CEO of Bridgeable and Service Design expert becomes executive-in-residence at the Rotman School.


  • Rotman launches a complete Business Design major, generating certificates of specialization for full-time MBA students.

  • Kingspan sponsors the Global Rotman Design Challenge.

  • Rotman offers a new branded suite of Business Design Executive Programs.

  • Assistant Professor Beausoleil is awarded a Rotman Catalyst Fund grant to lead research on Business Design as an academic discipline.

  • Rotman’s Dean Tiff Macklem invests in a broad Business Design Initiative (BDI) and appoints Assistant Professor Beausoleil as academic director.
  • BDI is awarded a three year Rotman Catalyst Fund grant.
  • Business Design Fundamentals elective introduced for the first time to Year 1 Full Time MBA students.
  • BDI hosts its inaugural Business Design Xchange annual conference.
  • Emma Aiken-Klar, former Chief Anthropologist with Idea Couture becomes executive-in-residence working with BDI