By Sally Ann Flecker

When students in Carnegie Mellon’s Master of Integrated Innovation for Products and Services (MII-PS) program stepped into their new building this winter, they walked into an intentionally blank slate. And that couldn’t be more perfect, because that’s where these innovators-in-training start. The tasks they will face in their professional lives will involve making products or services better. Or maybe they’ll be charged with creating things that are so original that people won’t know they can’t live without them until they try them.

That’s why the open, flexible studio/laboratory created for these students is so welcome. It’s a renovated former bank at the edge of Pittsburgh’s campus. The tables and chairs are mobile, able to be configured from classroom to individual team zones and back again as the spirit moves. “It’s meant to be an active making and thinking space,” says Eric Anderson, an industrial design professor. “It will probably have its own personality every year based on the class. The goal is that you’ll walk into this space, and it’ll just have this energy. We tend to have seven or more teams going on at any time, so when you look in each corner, you’ll see a different activity going on.”

A one-year professional program, the MII-PS was previously called the Master of Product Development. The name change comes with the launch of a new CMU endeavor—the Integrated Innovation Institute.

V11n2 Trailblazers 1The institute is supported by a triumvirate of Carnegie Mellon powerhouses: the College of Engineering, the College of Fine Arts, and the Tepper School of Business. In addition to Anderson, the co-directors are Peter Boatwright (Tepper) and Jonathan Cagan (Engineering). Each point out that no discipline is emphasized more than the others; talking to them brings to mind the Three Musketeers motto: All for one, and one for all.That’s really the beauty of the institute. Students come in with a command in one of the three areas and are cross-trained in the others. They learn how to work alongside the other students, and how to understand each other’s abilities.

“The institute is a joint effort of engineering, design, and business—and it’s those programs for a reason,” Boatwright says. “If you’re going to create value, whatever it is, it has to be effective, it has to work. That’s the engineering discipline. But that’s not enough.” In addition, says Cagan, “It has to excite and connect to people— that’s design.” The final piece, he points out, is the business side—economic viability. The end result is a product or a service that is useful, usable, and desirable to real people in the marketplace, which is the program’s mantra.

MII-PS has been ranked consistently among the top three Best Graduate Programs in Industrial Design by U.S. News & World Report.

The courses students take in the other disciplines are not generic, says Cagan, but appropriate for understanding what it takes to develop a product. “We give them fundamentals in user research and in entrepreneurship as well. We teach them how to understand and uncover what users really need and want.”

“They’re not just learning about the way others think,” Boatwright adds. “Their own thinking is transformed, which sets them up to be an industry leader, an innovation leader, a team leader, because they have a new mind set.”

The Integrated Product Development Capstone Course gives students hands-on experience with the “fuzzy front-end” of product or service development. Students work in teams on projects for well-established companies as well as on projects to develop new market opportunities and innovative products. “The institute allows us to come together as these key disciplines and, from the beginning, take wide-open, and in some cases abstract, problem statements and together work on them to define a solution that is valuable to the constituency,” says Anderson. “We end up creating a proposal that’s holistic in its thinking. Not just an end—what the solution can be—but also why the solution is what it is.”

One product example is Navistar, manufacturer of the International LoneStar truck. Recognizing that cross-country trucking is a grueling job, Navistar wanted to add features to its line to keep long-haul drivers in the industry for the long haul. Teams of MII-PS students generated ideas to provide the comforts of home for those who spend weeks at a time on the road.

One team structured a safe environment for pets, because about a third of truck drivers have a furry companion with them on the highway. Features included a harness, gate, collapsible passenger seat, and water jug. Another team developed better sleeping quarters. Top bunks are usually so cumbersome to climb into that most tag-team drivers just throw their sleeping bags down on the lower bunk. A solution was devised to raise and lower the bunks so that each was equally and easily accessible. A third team designed an ergonomic kitchenette for the compact living area in the LoneStar truck so that drivers could cook their own meals on the road instead of eating a steady diet of fast food. Navistar liked the ideas so much they incorporated several of them into their new trucks.

MII-PS is not limited to the Pittsburgh campus. Newly part of the institute is the Master of Science in Software Management program at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, which focuses on software management, innovation and entrepreneurship. In fall 2015, the institute will also offer a Master of Integrated Innovation–New York City program as part of CMU’s Integrative Media Program. And in addition to professional master-level education, the Institute will begin offering Executive Education courses this summer, and continue its efforts in applied research around integrated innovation.

In imagining where the program can go, the co-directors agree, the possibilities—like innovation—are endless.


MII-PS Program from Eric Anderson on Vimeo.