Could Design Thinking and Business co-habit?! when hot chemistry turns into marriage

Applying Design Thinking methods to an existing business culture is still a challenge but can be done when well framed. Thinking the business in a holistic way has gains, improving innovation and creativity.

(Currently studying Digital Media Management, at Hyper Island. This article is a summary of my work on Design Thinking.)

DT at Hyper Island
“Without having a goal, it’s difficult to score”.

The phrase by Arden (2003) establish the boundaries for the analysis about Design Thinking (DT) and how traditional business managers deals with non-measurable concepts like Creativity and Design.

Cross-functional dialogue

Analytical process to solve problems and make decisions, like analysing all available options and determine a path to follow, with time constraints, is a familiar approach that managers deal every day. Approaching business challenge like a designer is a new concept for a business manager that can lead to new ways to grow and sustain business. Like Raney and Jacoby (2010) state, understanding how a designers solves a problem and applying it in a business context can have a significant impact in how tasks and ideas grow.

Letting space for iterate and develop new ideas that appear along the way it’s a designer’s work method. Browse, prototype and recapitulate ideas, learning and modifying, if needed, the original path, is known as a creative process. Formulating a deeper understanding of options available, refining ideas, can be perceived as DT in action and can be a very uncomfortable place to be for a traditional business manager.

The notion that managers way of thinking and solve problems it’s different from a designers way based DT in practice discourse. When IDEO’s Tom Kelley explored that a business had more to gain with valuable design than with traditional business consultants, enabling business innovation, exposed the importance and potential of designers (and their work methods) engaging with companies. The term was coined by Tim Brown when he expose DT could be used as a problem-solving method when applied to issues outside the traditional design domains.

Brown, when writing to Harvard Business Review (2008, p. 86), about the concept DT, illustrates the idea by paralysing with Edison’s way of doing innovation with direct observation: “innovation is powered by a thorough understanding, through direct observation, of what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular products are made, packaged, marketed, sold, and supported”.

Observe people and their actions is an important role in the process of Design Thinking. When observing (managers, designers and all stakeholders) the human-centered design approach echos the paths to be taken. New approaches. Understanding. Like Edison, the observation is not only to validate preconceived assumptions but to learn along the way and discover new ways when iterating.

DT phases, or more commonly, design phases, are three: inspiration, ideation and implementation. The first to label the motivation to proceed for a solution; the second to generate, develop and test solution; the third to deliver the solution to the market. Being back and forward through this steps its the ideal process to solution grew, innovate, and to involve all the stakeholders in the same way — business, technology and people. Innovation has a new focus; it’s not just the importance of technology new features but toward the innovation of meaning.

By passing this stages and using prototypes, business managers are embracing more experiments in the daily routine of their companies that can lead to more innovation. Prototyping it’s only expensive and complex if needed.

DT is a mean to deliver creativity and competitive advantage within the business context but, for some practitioners, like Bruce Nussbaum (2011), argue that DT is “failed experiment” applied when the designer’s role is disregarded.

DT in the core of decision-making

Like Gardien and Gilsing (2013) explains, the role of Philips Design nowadays is more intimate than ever, a strategic partner, with the powerful perspective that DT can bring to the business operation. To do this path, and implement it in the right way, Philips needed to develop a new kind of designer, capable of understanding and deliver a consistent user experience across all channels maintaining brand identity consistency.

Over the past decades, Design as a discipline matured from what as stylish tool into a business and cultural change. It’s in the core of successful business. It can be perceived as: an approach; an outcome; a capability (Gardien and Gilsing (2013)). Design as an Approach is DT generating ideas in a collaborative work with other disciplines. Design as an Outcome is the specific contribute to the value chain of the business. Design as a Capability is the features of the community, their skills and competence.

Design Thinking and Design Doing are synonymous, optimised and integrated design processes lead to better business performance and return on investments, like observed in Philips, Amazon, Google and IBM, for instance (Raney and Jacoby, 2010).

The successes of DT relays on the way business tend to perceive the discipline as a process and a methodology, instead of a radically shifted way to do business. Understanding the value that designers capabilities built up by direct experience is a real paradigm shift that business can acknowledge.

Knowing the history of DT, the defined concepts, and possible future paths are a useful tool to understand the industry environment. Design Thinking appears as a different way to formulate a business problem where the user point of view is also a condition to achieve the end, added to the technology feasibility and business viability that frames the outcome.

Articulating the value of design and innovation with a continuing and strengthen customer focus led to, in companies like IBM, Philips, Google and Amazon, a recognition that the discipline is an essential part of the business success.

Design Thinking is concerned about “how something may be” rather traditional business models, which have their focus on how something is and must be. The traditional business world commonly uses a phrase that determine the path for the project: “not enough…”, as states Raney and Jacoby (2010). The assumptions that can be followed and developed, without testing, because that isn’t time enough, or resources enough, or data enough, or knowledge enough, can narrow the potential perspectives for the outcome.

The use of constraints to expand and innovate is Design Thinking in action

Thinking inside the real constraints at the right moment, it’s more demanding with better outcome for the customers and users. That is what DT can bring to the business. To connect with people, it’s crucial to create experiences. To do so, business need to have a clear vision what creates meaning for people and theirs customers.

According to the academic discourse, taking a human-centered approach, alongside with business and technology translates into the concept “Design Thinking”. This can be seen as the same concept of designerly thinking, framed as a buzzword into the business discourse.

The discipline could be a source of competitive advantage for a company when using this approach as a point of differentiation from its competitors (Collins, (2014)). But, the lack of clarity and coherence in the practice can, sometimes, lead to poor implementation of tools, turning the process difficult and ineffective. The perceived risk of the process, and the exploration of failure can also see negative angles. Testing and analysis help the companies achieve a sustained competitive advantage through greater collaboration and better synthesis of data to create more innovative solutions.

Design Thinking can be a factor of change… and for change. Organisations need to rethink how they perceive and act about projects, about who gets involved and when, about how they do things and where they want to go, to effective apply Design Thinking and their game-changing outcomes.

There I was, thinking again what is Design, what could be and what is not. Me, that study Design before the concept “Design Thinking” turned into “a thing”… hope you enjoy my ride through thinking about Design Thinking and Business. This article is a summary of my work for my MA in Digital Media Management, at Hyper Island, UK.