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Monday, May 29, 2023

Business By Design

The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena has long-held ties to local and global enterprises – pipelines that give its students opportunities to pursue lucrative design and creative careers in a spread of industries.

Now the 88-year-old college, with more than 2,100 students at its two Pasadena campuses, is broadening its ties, establishing partnerships and formal programs with business schools and other universities.

Art Center’s move toward partnerships with business schools started in 2005 with the launch of a semester study-abroad program in conjunction with Insead, a graduate business school based near Paris. Then came a series of project-based partnerships with the USC Marshall School of Business that continues.

The trend intensified three years ago when the college launched a dual degree program with the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. To date, a total of 21 students have graduated with dual Master of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees in innovation systems design having taken classes at both schools.

Business push

Art College recent strides are seen as a base to build upon for new Provost Karen Hofmann, who started last month, as she seeks more joint programs with business schools.

The idea, she said, is to infuse Art Center’s design students with more business knowledge so they can fare better at launching their own companies.

“When you bring business and design together, then our students can start new companies,” said Hofmann, whose post gives her responsibility for academic operations, reporting directly to Lorne Buchman, president of the school.

The push to integrate business coursework with a design arts education is part of a broader trend in the creative economy, according to Somjita Mitra, director of the Institute for Applied Economics at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

“For creative types to succeed in the business world, they need to learn the skills that can be utilized for future success and learning from different disciplines is important to catalyze growth and unique business opportunities,” Mitra said in an email. 

Mitra cited as an example Y-Combinator, a start-up accelerator fund based in Mountain View. The fund “expressly recommends for companies to have multiple founders from different disciplines to leverage unique strengths to increase the odds of the venture succeeding.”

Automotive ties

Art Center is one of several design-focused colleges in the Los Angeles area. Among others are the Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester; the California Institute for the Arts in Valencia; the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in downtown Los Angeles, and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), also in downtown.

Art Center College is known for its ties to the transportation industry, especially auto company design studios. Hyundai Motor America, which is based in Fountain Valley, sponsors a design center at the college, where students hone auto design skills. Many of those students move on to careers in auto design, at Hyundai or elsewhere.

Other auto companies that often recruit Art Center graduates include: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles; Ford Motor Co.; General Motors Corp.; Mazda Design Americas; Nissan Design America; and Tesla Motors.

More than 150 other companies regularly recruit on the campus, including entertainment studios Walt Disney Co. and DreamWorks SKG and tech companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google Creative Labs.

None of this comes cheap for the 200 or so graduate students in the industrial design and other programs. Full tuition for six terms over two years for graduate students in the industrial design program runs about $135,000. Students in the dual degree program with the Drucker School can add up to another $27,500.

(Undergrad tuition is around $42,000).

School officials say the cost is justified by the results. Art Center spokeswoman Teri Bond pointed to a recent survey of 2016 graduates that showed more than 90 percent of those receiving bachelor’s degrees found work closely related to their field of study within a year, while more than 80 percent of those receiving master’s degrees found closely-related work within a year.


Art Center College’s first business school partnership began 13 years ago with Insead, the French graduate business school with a main campus in Fontainebleau, France, and another in Singapore. Art Center students can choose to spend a semester at either Insead campus, studying business from an international perspective and applying that material to their design work. The program is similar to the junior-year-abroad study programs at many colleges and universities.

To date, 103 students have participated in the program, according to figures provided by Art Center College.

The partnership with the USC Marshall School is mostly on an individual project or study basis. For example, the Art Center’s Designmatters program collaborates with the Marshall School’s Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab on a program called Safe Agua, which helps design systems to ensure safe drinking water for communities in several South American countries. The collaboration includes joint workshops and Marshall School-arranged guest lectures for the Art Center College students, according to Jennifer May, director of the Designmatters program at Art Center College and herself a graduate of the USC Marshall School program,

“The purpose is to broaden students’ minds –to bring social enterprise knowledge for design students and design knowledge for the business school students,” May said.

Drucker dual degree

Art Center’s most formalized business school collaboration is the dual degree program with the Drucker School of Management. About a dozen students a year enroll in the program, according to Jenny Darroch, dean of the Drucker School, and also a professor of innovation, entrepreneurship, and marketing.

Darroch said that from the Drucker School’s perspective, a key attraction of the dual program is the current demand from companies for more specialized degrees instead of a traditional Master’s in Business Administration alone.

“The MBA market has softened,” Darroch said. “A smart graduate management school should be diversifying its degree product portfolio and one way to do that is through joint degree programs with other institutions.”

Darroch said the program – while relatively small by the standards of some of the region’s bigger schools – has exceeded the Drucker School’s expectations with 21 dual-degree graduates so far.

“We’ve been thrilled with the students we’ve had from Art Center,” she said.

She also noted that by enrolling in the dual degree program, Art Center students are saving money; to pursue each degree separately would cost close to $250,000.

Darroch said she would be open to more dual degree programs or other opportunities to collaborate with Art Center College.

Howard Fine
Howard Fine
Howard Fine is a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Business Journal. He covers stories pertaining to healthcare, biomedicine, energy, engineering, construction, and infrastructure. He has won several awards, including Best Body of Work for a single reporter from the Alliance of Area Business Publishers and Distinguished Journalist of the Year from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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