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During a Feb. 14 lecture, design expert Walter Herbst led Kellogg students through his process for obtaining optimal results.

New Form + Function Club welcomes design expert Walter Herbst

Key to good practice is understanding what customers really need, not just what they say they need

By Adrienne Murrill

2/18/2008 - What is good design? More importantly, what is good design practice?

These were the questions that Kellogg School students discussed with award-winning designer Walter Herbst on Feb. 14. Herbst addressed the Kellogg community at the kick-off event for Form + Function, the new Kellogg design and innovation strategy club. His lecture took place in the Donald P. Jacobs Center.

The founder and chairman of Herbst LaZar Bell drew a large audience, igniting excitement for the club. As a clinical professor of marketing at Kellogg, a clinical professor of engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and as the director of the new Master of Product Development Program (MPD), Herbst ’90 is a well-known and respected figure among the Northwestern community. He conducted the hour-long session like a class seminar, interacting with students throughout the presentation and providing specific examples to illustrate his points.

“Good design practice is not about sketching on your dining room table,” he said. “I’m so delighted to be here because you MBA types are getting that there’s more to it than that. Good design practice is about discovering the needs, identifying the opportunities and creating the emotional solutions that can be enabled by technology.”

Herbst noted the traditional elements in the marketing mix — pricing, channels, advertising and distribution — and said that once firms exhaust the competitive advantage of these tools “there’s nothing left … except design” in the business arsenal.

Throughout the lecture, Herbst shared his approach to design, which begins by identifying not just what customers say they do but discovering what they actually do and how they do it. In particular, he emphasized the design process, which he presented through the five steps he uses in his work.

“We start out with discovery, which is trying to understand what the issues are, then we go into some opportunity mapping, what I call direction,” he said. “We do some concept work and we call that envisioning.” At this point, the firm still does not know for certain if its assessment is correct, so Herbst said he and his colleagues will perform preferences research to check how the market will respond. They then refine their assessment and begin the product realization stage.

Using examples his firm has worked on, Herbst illustrated how this model has created success for his clients.

He closed the lecture with a question-and-answer session and left students with these remarks: “You all like design, you’re getting your MBAs and you may be wondering, ‘Where do I fit?’” Herbst said he’s not worried about them finding their place in a career that blends business and design. “With all the coursework you’ve had, this field is open to you.”

Students created the Form + Function Club in response to the recent addition of the MPD Program at Northwestern. Samantha Katz ’09 said that she and other first-year members of the Kellogg MMM Program began the organization to complement the dozens of other student clubs and address the need for a group that focused on design.

“Our goal is to educate the Kellogg population on design and innovation by bringing in people from the industry, holding workshops and designing new products,” she said.