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Designing YOU: What students can learn from their iPhone

Ray DePaul and David Finch of the Bissett School of Business say there's more to life at university than your GPA.  

Provocative new book, course challenge the status quo in post-secondaryEarning a university degree holds more in common with designing consumer goods than most people believe, contend researchers with Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business.

David Finch and Ray DePaul are the authors behind the edgy book, Designing YOU: Life beyond your grades.

Their new tome takes aims at the underpinnings of formal education. It challenges students to optimize their time at Mount Royal by ascribing to the concept of the “whole product.”

“The whole product is everything a customer needs and expects to get when they buy a product, plus the promise of everything it could become,” explains Finch.

Designing YOU: Life Beyond Your Grades challenges students to apply a product design concept to their life.

The authors ask:

1.If you view yourself as a product, what is the whole product that will launch into the world?
2.Who is your target customer (e.g. your future employer)?
3.How many customers have you met to better understand their needs?
4.How will you be valuable to your customers?
5.How will you be different from others?
6.What evidence do you have that you actually possess the skills required?
7.And, how will you spend the next few years designing and building this compelling whole product?

Prior to joining Mount Royal, Finch and DePaul built careers in product management and marketing. They’ve been struck by the parallel between the life of a university student and commercial product design.

In an exercise, students put themselves in the shoes of the geniuses who designed the iPhone.

The sleek design of the Apple-made phone is indisputably impressive. But the researchers argue the real value of the iPhone lies in the millions of apps available for download, the multimedia conversations that can be had through iMessage and the way music can be purchased through iTunes.

“This 'whole product' concept is where BlackBerry went wrong,” said DePaul, who spent five years as a BlackBerry product manager in the late ’90s.
Today, DePaul is director of Mount Royal’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“We find too many students making a similar mistake,” he said. “They have a singular focus on one dimension — their GPA — at the expense of all the other areas that will develop skills that will make them both valuable and different”.

Following in the footsteps of such prestigious institutions as Harvard University and Stanford University, the educators are applying the whole product concept to higher education.

“Our course, Designing YOU, follows similar high-demand non-credit courses taught at both Harvard and Stanford,” said Finch. “But we decided at MRU we wanted to supercharge it by writing a design guide and then having students commit a semester to do it right.”

Given Mount Royal’s strong history of community-integrated learning, students are well-positioned to adopt the principles of Designing YOU. Community service learning programs, co-op opportunities and work placements help ensure graduates are work-ready by the time they turn their tassels.

The Canadian University Survey Consortium reported 77 per cent of Mount Royal graduating students were employed in 2014/15. That is higher than the national average of 69 per cent and the 63 per cent benchmark of comparable universities.

Mount Royal Career Services Director Colleen Bradley enthusiastically supports the initiative.

Designing YOU provides an innovative perspective on bettering your time at university or college,” said Bradley. “Even after working in higher education for 20 years, I found myself wanting to do the exercises.”

“The book is not just a guide to building a successful career. It’s a guide to building a successful life.”

The book intends to push readers further down the path of gainful employment. It outlines an eight-step process that mirrors what product managers in industry are doing.  The approach encourages students to think through their personal definition of success and how to align all aspects of their life to achieve it.

 “Education is embedded in your job as a waiter,” Finch said. “Education is embedded in volunteering in your community. It's embedded in every relationship.
“The classroom today compliments these other forms of education — but can't replace it.”

In addition to writing the textbook, Finch and DePaul are teaching a course by the same name. Students will learn to be their own product managers.

While anyone can register for the course, the researchers suggest second-year students may be in the “sweet spot.” Whatever year of study, prospective learners are forewarned they will need to roll up their sleeves.

“This is not your traditional course, nor a traditional process,” DePaul said. “Success will be defined by commitment.” 

Where to find Designing YOU

The Designing YOU eBook can be purchased through All Mount Royal students will receive a 50 per discount by buying the eBook or eBook/print bundle before Oct. 1, using the promo code “whole you.”

 Sept. 6, 2016 — Bryan Weismiller