Dr. Amir Sabet Sarvestani

ISD Alumni Leadership Board Member

Principal Innovation Consultant

Amazon Web Services

Our discipline is Integrative Systems + Design. What does that mean to you?

We realize there are much more complex problems that not just one field can tackle and address. So we need different thinking types, different brain types, and different ways of working together. And that’s what ISD is bringing to the integrative system and design. When I was studying here, I really didn’t realize how expansive this field can be. And now looking from the outside, I realize how much need is there for programs like this.

It is super important and crucial because as the world is expanding in different knowledge types and different domains, we realize more and more there is a need for different thinking and different languages coming together to solve very complex problems together. ISD brings that opportunity for different ways of thinking and working together to combine forces and to join and unite to solve those really complex world problems.

Why is the field of ISD so important?

ISD impacts the world in ways and means. It has a very, very ever-lasting impact. The way we are thinking about solving problems in different ways. We are thinking about how you can bring in different disciplines together. How can you actually combine, for instance, statistics with social sciences? How can you combine engineering with medicine? And as the world evolves and we have much more complex problems as we solve pandemics, for instance, it wasn’t just the public health problem, but the business problem. It was a social problem. It was a racial justice problem. All these challenges are coming together now. We need a comprehensive and collective response that will impact this world.

What is the future of ISD? Where will it be ten years from now? 25 years from now?

The future of ISD is the topic of the future of the education system in our society and especially us. Now it’s time to revamp and to think bigger and much, much better than what we have been thinking about in the last few decades about education. ISD is a really good example of how you can be forward-thinking and forward-looking. We’re going to see a lot of different programs similar to ISD come to life within the field of education, within the field of engineering, and in the field of medicine that is way outside of the box. And that’s what ISD has been representing so far. I see a very bright future for ISD as one of the pioneers in this field taking interdisciplinary ways. It’s just going to expand and evolve into how we can tackle these very pressing global problems we have raised from climate change all the way to education to poverty. These are not problems no one person in one discipline can solve, and that’s what muscles and brains like ESD can tackle. So the future is bright.

What is the value the field of ISD provides to society?

ISD applies stakeholder theory in a way that benefits corporations and customers. For example, with ESG being top of mind, executives versed in integrative systems design will learn how to design and implement holistic solutions that push the productivity frontier (i.e. develop sustainable solutions that are not just the result of increased costs).  ESG strategies that are not thought through with an ecosystem lens run the risk of being perceived as Greenwashing efforts. In other words, ISD makes this kind of innovation real and attainable.

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in ISD?

So the reason I chose to pursue a degree in Design Science was primarily because I wasn’t the type that wanted to do a classic research type graduate degree. I didn’t see myself spending a lot of time inside a lab, but I really wanted to go deep into this concept of user centric design for medical devices. That’s what I studied, and I had the fortune of working with a couple of advisors who were very supportive of actually being in the field and spending time with users. I spent a lot of time with physicians, public health experts, local, tribal leaders in sub-Saharan Africa to think and talk about what a good medical device could look like for them. What a suitable, appropriate medical device could look like for them. And that’s an opportunity I wouldn’t get in any other PhD program. That was a fantastic opportunity for me because I learned a lot by being in the field and contributed to the science of the time when I was doing my research.

How has your ISD degree helped you in your career?

Design Science specifically and the experience I had during my time here in Michigan undoubtedly prepared me for what I’m dealing with day to day at work, not just now, the last 10 years, and I’m sure for the next few decades. And it wasn’t a single class or a single course I took that helped me with solving the problem. But that ability to be uncomfortable in ambiguous environments and situations was something that Design Science really instilled in me. I really didn’t know what I’m going to get into when I started my Design Science education here. I knew it’s about complex systems and how we can solve a very complex, challenging problem. I tried to figure it out and I had a huge help and support from my advisors, from the program, from other students, and that framework and the principles that came with it. I know that actually helped build certain muscles in my brain to solve very challenging problems. And in your professional career, wherever you go, the most important muscle is how you can actually solve ambiguous problems. And that helped a lot in figuring out different things, and I’ve been able to use that every day at work.

What specific lessons did you learn during your ISD education that you apply regularly in your career?

One of the most important lessons I learned here is I always had doubts about what am I studying, what am I going to do when I grow up, what I’m going to do when I get out of school and learning to be comfortable with that uncomfortable thought or uncomfortable question has been one of the greatest lessons I learned here because it will happen in your career, personal life, professional life, wherever you go, that it’s going to be unknowns, iteration. Your situation is different from the next person, the next person. And how you actually solve it is unique, right? That’s what makes you unique. I think that’s one of the most incredible elements I learned here. What comes together is the ability to reach across the other side of the aisle and collaborate with others. That’s something my PhD advisor really instilled in me. That it doesn’t really matter if you sit in mechanical engineering or biomedical engineering or medical school or business school, you work together and understand each other’s language because that’s how the real world actually works. That’s probably another very important lesson I learned.

Why would you recommend UM’s ISD to a prospective student or corporate partner?

So the reason to be here is not because we have good classes or good courses or a good curriculum. To be very honest, everyone has some capability or capacity to build good courses and a good curriculum can do that. But the unique thing about Michigan and ISD is the strength of the people and the environment it has created, the culture it has created that gives you support to actually be comfortable in that uncomfortable situation. Everyone can go and learn principles of design and everyone can go and learn about empathy maps, and everyone can go and learn about complex systems from different institutions and colleges around the country and the world. But having that ability to reach out to the greatest minds, to provide you with a culture of support and nourishment and let you grow while you’re very uncomfortable and let you expand your thinking is something unique in the last 15 years of my professional experience working with a lot of people from different institutions. Michigan is the place to be for that.