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The lost art of tying the mental room together... or why every designer needs something like d.MBA

In a mind not long, long ago there was a spark. A lonesome spark, but a spark nonetheless.

I have wanted to dive deeper into product in the recent time, not sure how I should go about it. Wanted to get a mentor, but that didn't turn out positively (yet), but I'm not willing to give up yet!

And when I heard about Alen's d.MBA, my mind went *ping* (just like a microwave finishing heating up that scrumptious vegan burrito). I really should brush up on my knowledge about business and how it all connects with products. That's a good start to get some of the product pieces together!

From previous projects I knew bits and pieces, but it didn't feel organized, whole. I needed a rug to my room - to really tie it together. 😬

I applied. And got nervous. It was the first step as a designer to learn more about business. It felt official.

But it ended up being awesome and collaborative and enlightening in all the right ways! 💛

The technicalities

d.MBA is targeted at design professionals that want to expand their skills into the business world. It's a 6-week online course limited to about 30 other participants. It's a good number to keep things collaborative and have great discussions, but not too big to be intimidating. In a way we were the chosen ones! 😄

After applying one gets on a quick call with Alen, the course maître. Checking if you are a good fit for the class and if you have the commitment it takes to finish it.

When starting the class a few things happen:

  • you join a slack workspace, where the magic happens,

  • you get access to materials for the first week,

  • and you join an introduction video call with all the other participants.

And then the curiosity door unlocks. And you get sucked into 6 different topics, covering industry, market and product areas. Each monday you get access to new learning materials (videos, slides, links) on a new topic and you have till sunday midnight to get through them and get your assignment done.

If at any point you needed additional explanation or had questions on anything, the slack channel was the first step to ask - and promptly getting them answered. Additionally, every sunday afternoon there would be a non-obligatory co-creating video session to discuss the current assignment at hand. Sounds neat, right?

The projects

And you know what? All the assignments were done on real projects so it wasn't just some theoretical stuff - it was a hands-on approach on two different start-ups. When exploring the weekly topic of business strategy we also had to innovate a bit ourselves: create a novelty product in the wine industry.

When researching the industry, I decided on a CBD-infused wine (which I found out already exists, but pursued it nonetheless). Meet Nightcap.

I additionally created a little packaging and an overview of the value propositions; minimalistic and clean to appeal to the different target audiences I identified (busy people wanting to wind down at the end of the day, twitch players after a match, anxious youngsters and elderly that need a little extra help getting to sleep). Felt cute, posted it later (like... in this post).

But when debating this with Gentle Giant another fun idea, a bonus, came up 😬

At that time it was confirmed Kanye would make a new gospel album called "Jesus is king"; and with gospel being usually associated with the christian church and mass, I went to googling. I found out he's got a soft spot for moscato and even has his own vineyard.

I imagined a tour would undoubtedly follow the album and each tourdate would be like a mass with Kanye being the central sacral figure for his followers (fans). And with that church comes a special kind of merchandise - Kanye's communion wine.

An idea for the ad (the image on the bottle was the existing IMAX poster)

Kanye's brand is high-profile and exclusive, making his communion wine high-profile and exclusive as well, in addition to being limited edition and available for a limited amount of time only on tour and via tour website. The blue ocean canvas I created for it even featured a competing factor of the wine being blessed by Kanye himself.

Millions, I tell you! Millions!

Creating new products and give a little way to our pixel-pushing creative brains, was so much fun!

There were of course other assignments we had, but they were more of a business matter, things like research of industries and competitors, business model innovation and prototyping with numbers. But these two wine-inspired things I just needed to share because I love them so much. Shameless self-promotion and such. #sorryNotSorry

The takeaways

After sinking my teeth into the business side a bit, I feel more confident that I understand the bigger picture and can understand the big words thrown around in some meetings.

There's been a lot of takeaways from the course, obviously. But the big one for me is that designers don't just make stuff look pretty. I always tried to look at the whole product, trying to find out more about it and how my designs tied into that big picture. Sometimes that got me weird looks and a kind of "mind your own pixels" response. Now with the d.MBA I got the confirmation I needed that this is actually the way to go, and it's awesome. It's good to know designers can have a seat at the table and actually should have! We can contribute much more than just a pretty face (of things).

Another valuable lesson I want to share was on product and testing:

Do the extra work and research your potential product. Test your ideas with quick prototypes before pushing loads of time and money towards them; and then focus on the ones that were successful and make most business sense.

Sometimes we have to kill our darlings, as they say. And with all the pretty design that's even harder to do because you fall in love with it.

This also resonates with one of the ideas Daniel Burka shared:

Make sure you’re designing the right thing; the danger of being a designer is we can make a lot of mediocre ideas look attractive.

During the course we actually got to talk to Daniel and although I did not agree with some of his views, I am kind of fangirling him now because he did make a lot of good points in interviews.

Now, after completing d.MBA, it's not just over; We joined the d.MBA alumni (a special slack for all the peeps that successfully completed the course) and the discussions continue there. Cause it ain't over baby, till it's oooooover. And that "over"? It's nowhere to be seen thanks to the mindful framework of d.MBA.

Being a designer nowadays is and should be more than just pushing pixels around and make stuff look sexy. It's part of the job, but there's so much more (and so much more that I need to learn).

But we need to go beyond graphics and get into the nooks and crannies of the product - the industry, the goals, the business models, the prototyping and testing. We need to become almost a "holistic" designer, if you want (borrowing that little term from Adams' Dirk Gently). And that is going to get us a seat at the table with the big guys, we'll have bigger impact and it's going to improve the companies and products we work on.

That doesn't mean I'm finished with all of my learning. Not. At. All. Much to learn I have! But it's a good point to start connecting the dots. And it gives me a lot of things I now need to practice in real life.

So if you're thinking of diving a bit deeper into what it means to be a designer that really can have an impact on the whole product or company, don't wait any longer. This course is right up your alley!

d.MBA changes your frame of mind, shifts your perspective and adds to your skills. You learn about the bigger picture in a hands-on way — and that at your own pace in the comfort of your home and onesie (or even without).

If you have any more questions or want to know more, head over to the d.MBA page or ask me at


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