Natalie W. Nixon, Ph.D., is a hybrid thinker, comfortably synthesizing creative and analytical thought processes from design and business to arrive at innovative opportunities. A practitioner and researcher of design thinking, she has 15 years of experience as an educator on the secondary and university levels and worked in the fashion industry as an entrepreneurial hat designer as well as in apparel sourcing for The Limited Brands in Sri Lanka and Portugal. Nixon’s research and consulting interests are in integrative strategic design, experiential service design and applying strategies from the fashion industry to a range of sectors, utilizing style as a competitive advantage in order to build brand distinction. Nixon is certified by the National Charrette Institute at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design to lead charrette trainings; she uses the charrette methodology to lead ideation, opportunity finding and consensus building for a range of organizations.
Nixon earned a BA (cum laude) from Vassar College with a double major in Anthropology and Africana Studies; an MS in Global Textile Marketing from Philadelphia University; and a Ph.D. in Design Management from the University of Westminster, London.
Why were you interested in starting the Strategic Design MBA program?
While completing my Ph.D. in design management, my mind was opened to the multiple intersections of design and business. Graduate business programs in the UK have been linking design and business education for more than 10 years now! This is a new perspective in the United States, and it’s a perfect fit for PhilaU. This program combines our design legacy and strengths in business education.
What is the need in the marketplace?
Today’s businesses operate with a large degree of uncertainty and ambiguity – it takes much more than a SWOT analysis to frame problems and identify opportunities. Transferring design’s research methods beyond designing tangible products to designing the intangible business practices – such as services, experiences, operations and systems – is needed in many industries, including civic institutions, health care and the financial sector to name a few.
Take the fashion industry for example, which is where I spent my career prior to working in higher education, people only see two percent of the fashion industry – the “fabulous” side. But it is a strategic business where the creative and the commercial merge. The only constant in fashion is that there will always be change. In that industry, professionals have to be adaptive to these changes and plan for change at all times.
What is the response from industry leaders when you talk about the goals and outcomes of the program?
When I talk to people in a range of industries about this program, their faces light up. It’s almost like an “Aha!” moment for them; they are excited that finally there is a framework that merges the analytical and iterative approaches to problem solving!
Why do you think it is important to tie strategic design to an MBA program?
For Philadelphia University, we are taking the key aspects of the new curriculum from the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce and extending it to the graduate level. It is an approach to teaching and learning that will develop the skills, which businesses need to be innovative today. We have numerous thought leaders engaged with the university – ranging from the former envisioner at Continuum to the global director of Gillette for P&G – who have been successful at innovating their processes by linking strategic design methods to their business platforms. It is important for higher education to build curriculum around this synergy.
How do you pitch the program to prospective students?
This is an MBA for hybrid thinkers. It will prepare students to think strategically using frameworks that combine the linear thought process with more creative, iterative process – combining inductive and deductive reasoning.
What is your goal for the students in the program?
Our goal is to provide a creative studio lab experience for students in graduate business education, where they learn from each other and have access to thought leaders from industry and from academia. I hope that students leave every four-day weekend session with takeaway items and actionable tools that they can use, test or prototype within their companies/organizations.
According to The Wall Street Journal, companies like Google and JetBlue that are on the hunt for smart, creative types are posting jobs seeking candidates with “design thinking” backgrounds.