The Mentor, the Maven, and Matt: Speakers at MIT SDM Annual Conference to Present a Whole Systems Approach to Product Design & Development

By Melissa Parrillo, IDM Associate DirectorMatt.circa90

Neal Yanofsky, Shaun Modi, and Matt Kressy have all been invited to speak at the 2015 MIT SDM Conference on Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges. The MIT System Design & Management (SDM) program selected this year’s speakers and theme, “A Whole Systems Approach to Product Design and Development,” with the synergies of sister track Integrated Design & Management (IDM) in mind. Yanofsky, Modi, and Matt in particular were chosen to speak because they share a deep understanding of the power of integrated design. Yanofsky, former president of Panera Bread, chairman of Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, and board member and senior advisor of Snap Kitchen, and Modi, cofounder of TM, are particularly pleased to participate because of their longstanding relationships with Matt.

The mentor
Some years ago, when Matt was fresh out of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) but having trouble finding a design job, he applied to drive a delivery truck for Yanofsky. Recognizing Matt’s keen interest in business, however, Yanofsky hired him in sales and soon a friendship had developed over the little monochrome screen of a first-generation Macintosh computer; while the two reviewed profit and loss reports, and Yanofsky explained sales trends. “Matt quickly understood the business context. He really evolved over the years, and the student surpassed the teacher,” says Yanofsky, adding that he has also learned a lot from Matt over the years. “Matt is a great designer with a sense of pragmatism. For him design is never simply an end in itself. It contributes to a solution to a broader problem,” Yanofsky explains. “Matt asks, ‘How can design help?’ and he applies that to a purpose.” It is a lesson Yanofsky says he has applied in several senior roles at various companies over the years.

For his part, Matt recalls always being impressed by Yanofsky’s incredible awareness of user experience and his understanding that design is integral to a successful business. “Here is this Harvard Business School–educated man who understands intuitively the power of design,” Matt says of Yanofsky. “Neal’s understanding of the balance between user experience and operations greatly contributed to his ability to grow Panera from 15 stores to the Panera we know today. He lets design define the product and the value to the customer, and he uses operations to deliver that value without messing it up. He doesn’t let [operations] complicate the customer experience. That’s how Panera scaled up successfully.”

Yanofsky will share such valuable strategies in his keynote address, “Can Managers Contribute to Design that Creates Competitive Advantage?” at the MIT SDM Conference on Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges. There, IDM students will have the opportunity to learn from their teacher’s mentor.

The maven
Many years ago while teaching at RISD, Matt remembers reading “Shaun Modi is a god!” on the walls. Modi’s peers had recognized his special talents long before he took on design roles at NASA, Nokia, Motorola, Google, and Airbnb—even before he was named one of the Top 75 Designers in Technology by Business Insider in 2013. And Matt knew it as soon as he met his new student. “He is really intelligent, passionate and positive,” Matt says. “Shaun values design. He understands its value to society and his accomplishments speak to that.”

Modi has been out of RISD for 8 years now, but he acknowledges he’s still learning from Matt. The two correspond frequently and learn from each other, having developed a deep connection around their craft. Modi explained that he, like Matt, believes that it is important to continue to do the work. He said, “Always be practicing.”

Modi’s views on design align with IDM’s philosophy, which centers on balancing engineering, business, and design to bring new levels of creativity, vision, and integrity to business and society. Business leaders and students alike will benefit from Modi’s MIT SDM 2015 conference presentation, “The Creative Process Inside Startups: Best Practices and Lessons Learned.” Modi says, “As a complement to business, design can change the world. It needs to be part of what is feasible. There has to be collaboration making the product economical. Now, more than ever, design must partner with other disciplines.”

Join IDM in supporting the MIT SDM Conference on Systems Thinking for Contemporary Challenges: A Whole Systems Approach to Product Design & Development, which begins with a preconference session on October 6 featuring Matt’s talk, “Integrated Design Approach to Prototyping,” followed by conference sessions with Yanofsky and Modi on October 7. Stay for presentations by Todd P. Coleman, Ph.D., Steven D. Eppinger, Sc.D., Pat Hale, Matt Harper, Joan S. Rubin, and Maria Yang.