Transformation = design + thinking

Source: Mathew Lucas

The term

The term ‘design thinking’ was initially described as “borrowed from computer techniques and management theory, for the assessment of design problems and the development of design solutions.”

In 1965 L. Bruce Archer, professor of Design Research at the Royal College of Art argues that design was “not merely a craft-based skill but should be considered a knowledge-based discipline in its own right, with rigorous methodology and research principles incorporated into the design process” and states: “The most fundamental challenge to conventional ideas on design has been the growing advocacy of systematic methods of problem solving, borrowed from computer techniques and management theory, for the assessment of design problems and the development of design solutions.” He is, arguably, the first author to use the term design thinking in his book “Systematic Method for Designers”.

With time, design thinking gradually shifts away from the product fields and into the business sector. In 2005 Stanford University’s begins to teach engineering students design thinking as a formal method.


When someone implies the use of this method, what they most comonly refer to is a 5-stage process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. The very concept of this method is an open, ever evolving framework, which gets adapted to projects and processes. The sequence is not necessarily linear, the steps can occur simultaneously, the core concept of both method and application being constant evolution and iteration. The process itself is never finished.


So, think this through. For the longest time, businesses have been riding the analysis train (analysis breaks down complex ideas into smaller fragmented concepts so as to come up with an improved understanding) and using critical thinking (the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement). There we’re very much in a field of right and the wrong, and ‘finding a solution’ that, we know, exists somewhere, we just have to search hard enough to find it.

Subsequently ‘design’ is added into the mix (and design is, in large part, about creating things — creating them by doing). Like a guest, who is initially shy, but then turns up to be the best dancer, design thinking once applied to certain areas completely rocked the show.

  • Transformed ways of working as well as outcomes
    Pretty much all of it, from leaner and more result-oriented team structures with merit-based reward patterns; to shifting research methods towards contextual ones / observation heavy ones and constantly searching for more visual tools to present findings — any of these can be attributed to design thinking.
  • Became the source for many other methodologies
    Arguably, one of the main values of design thinking, applicable also to good design, is the fact that it’s never over — it should always be evolving, progressing — as a good mirror, it should reflect the changes in user base, changes in society, bring the changes in methodology. Finally we understood that build-test-release is much better in cycles, on a smaller scale, enabling businesses to try out new ideas quickly, with less investment — and voila — iterative nature of design thinking is transforming the way we run projects.
  • Gave licence to be wrong and be ok about it
    To search for multiple answers and accept many of them won’t be the right ones, evangelised trial and error on a scale that was not seen during the ‘raise of the machines’ times, bringing the focus back on the human-driven interactions, methods and ways of producing content. I may never put a full stop at the end of this sentence, and it’s ok…
  • Resulted in merging cross-discipline methods
    I am particularly interested in the concept of ‘playing’ and any alternative models that could be used to foster any (not necessarily creative) process. Working with large corporate clients might not seem like an area you could apply this in. But it actually is. Slowly but surely, companies realise the value of it, and enable us to transform their premises into playgrounds, and their teams into eager players. And who doesn’t like a good game with innovation as an outcome.

I guess all of this is to say that design thinking opened up the confines that other thinking models impose, often trigerring transformational effect within businesses and organisations. Use it. Iterate on it. Continue.

@alex_andr_a is an Experience Design Director, a bit of a book nerd, a metaphor addict and a good wine lover. Identifying intelligent thoughts and thinking them again, as prescribed by Goethe.