Evolution of Design Thinking

After a decade of learning and evolution, design thinking is slowly becoming a centerpiece for leading organizations. Interestingly, the CXO suite has a new designation, ‘the chief design officer’. What makes this an interesting change is that design is now not looked at as just aesthetical tool, but a strategic one.

Previously, role of design was mainly aesthetical. Its primary objective was to grab the attention of potential customers by allowing brand’s collective expressions. It demonstrated great potential in driving customer perceptions making a brand, product, or service stand out Even as design tools emerged powerful in capturing and retaining market segments, they were not really deemed to solve any core business challenges, marking their role tertiary or in effect ‘ornamental’

Design Thinking Mindset by Lancaster University : Helps in differentiating between the two and seeing the design thinking as a middle path from the two extremes.

Business challenges then were addressed ‘linear-ly’. We essentially lived in a sequentially interconnected world. Often any trigger caused a chain reaction, one thing leading to other. Tracing all the variables in the chain process allowed one to predict the displacements or even alter and deviate them. Logical thinking (or linear thinking) thus predetermined how effectively one could steer through these variables and formed the backbone of all the organizational decisions.

From Certainty to Curiosity & Abstraction
So what really changed?
As businesses expanded, witnessed the internet boom and other new market forces, the chain reactions were not only seen to be erratic but were also seen to tumble variables outside the boxes and boundaries which were earlier controlled by logical linear systems. Some of the new business problems aroused, were rather subjective or had no ‘known fixes’. No amount of known variables could thus solve the ‘mysteries’ of the new business world.

Design Thinking Process Model By Peer Insight

Where certainty failed, aroused a new method of embracing curiosity and abstraction, bringing forth the principles of design and thinking or ‘design thinking’

From Absolutes to Possibilities and Options

Design thinking allowed one to look at data points as abstraction, to find ‘curiosity’ and ‘flexibility’ within the chaos and ‘imagine’ a series of possible solutions rather than dealing with absolutes.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” — Tim Brown, president and CEO

Design thinking always starts with curiosity often from stepping into the user’s shoes- by understanding their context, lives, motivators, disappointments to creating possibilities that add value to their lives. The possibilities are thereafter built iteratively, most importantly by *different stakeholders working together through the process as this helps in bringing different perspectives which would have otherwise been missing with similar set of people.
(*Design thinking does not depend on consensus of the stakeholders unlike conventional thinking processes. It really emerges through their differences and power to build a bigger picture together.)

So does that make design thinking an all powerful tool?

Global Service Jam is one of the biggest design thinking / service design events in the world. In 2015, there were around 90 locations around the globe where the event was happening. Adam and Markus started the Jam in 2011 and it has also been recognized by Core77 Awards

Although the process of design thinking has demonstrated its problem solving brilliance to many organizations and is the new buzzword in today’s times, it is no magic wand and is definitely not interchangeable with the traditional linear processes of problem solving.

Traditional problem solving works very efficaciously in known definitive areas. It is highly competent as it can be easily automated and streamlined. Many crucial organizational decisions are still most excellently solved through logical (linear) thinking processes.

Design thinking albeit powerful, works largely on iterative model and may not work despite having infinite data sets. Additionally, this method relies on reflection and disagreement making it cumbersome and ‘inefficient’ (or so to speak in the terms of time and resource management). This may be highly successful in solving wicked (mysteries) but rather futile in otherwise known territories.

Furthermore, unlike the logical (linear) thinking, design thinking does not work in definitive steps; it wouldn’t be wrong to say, there is no perfect recipe to successful design thinking.

Drawing parallels, grammar can be taught rule by rule, book by book, but language is a matter of practice .. and so can be said about design thinking.

Where is the future for design thinking?

Assuredly design thinking is a very powerful tool, but that also makes one wonder if like all big toolkits, will this as well, phase out dreadfully soon w? Personally, I think it might be quite unlikely.

Design Thinking for Rural North Carolina : This case study showcases the ongoing project in North Carolina where a student is working with NGOs to help uplift the diminishing standard of life. This is a good example to understand the kind of challenges Design Thinking can tackle.

With evolving technology and AIs, linear logical processes are being outsourced to evolving complex algorithms. We may not be very far from automating the traditional logical processes in our organizations. 
Co-relations, synthesis and imagination on the other hand are rather hard to outsource. Functions with empathy at core are hard to automate.

Design, from the beginning has been concerned with the future. About things that are going to happen, about how it can really really affect and improve our lives. It’s been about emotions and functions together. It’s never been about what has already happened or is happening. It’s about creating and imagining possibilities. This is one of the reason why design thinking also concerns itself with possibilities in the future.

Going further, as we face more and more daunting challenges in the world, the need towards empathetic and novel solutions that can create a lasting impact would be on rise; design thinking from what I feel would be one of the most important toolkits to tackle these otherwise wicked challenges.

I would really like to understand from all of you where you see design thinking ‘step-in’ your organization to deliver most value? What kind of problems you think it can tackle? And more so, what kind of challenges you think this method would bring with it?