Summary: Plucking Business Design out of Design Thinking framework is misleading and creates several false expectations related to its role in Human-centered Design.
In her master thesis of 2004 titled Repositioning User Experience (UX) in the Danish Retail Industry, Dr Eunice Sari reported her 2-year research in the Danish Retail Industry. In her thesis, she outlined how UX that solely focuses on users’ needs is no longer sufficient to support the real business needs in the Danish Retail Industry. Thus there was a need to reposition UX and link the discourses of UX in the design, business, and management areas, including what many nowadays call Service Design.
Fast-forwarding to 2009, Roger Martin, the former Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto described how companies could incorporate Design Thinking into their organizational structure in his book “The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage”.
The book’s most important contribution is the concept of Knowledge Funnel that comprises three phases, i.e. Mystery, Heuristic and Algorithm. Knowledge Funnel is an alternative to illustrate how Design Thinking may decode a Wicked Problem into innovation.
While the Knowledge Funnel did not directly relate to Eunice’s work in 2004, Carlgren et al. (2016) emphasized that linking design, business and management for innovation is essential. There is an urgent need to connect the discourses of Design Thinking in the design and management areas.
Is Business Design a new discipline?
Another fast-forward to 2015, Misa Misono claimed that IDEO had formed a new discipline called Business Design that has a role in balancing users’ needs with clients’ needs, and a new buzzword was born. How do you balance the needs of users with the requirements of clients? The simple answer is to Design for Viability in Design Thinking.
While a “new discipline” may be an overstatement, balancing users’ needs with the business’s needs is real. From more than 100 commercial projects that I have worked on, small to huge, SMEs to International Corporations, 100 percent of them require balancing users’ needs with the needs of my client or the business.
After 2015, I haven’t heard people use the terminology “Business Design” for a while, other than IDEO and IDEO-inspired newbies trying to jump into UX or Design bandwagon. The reason for me is quite apparent: While balancing the needs of users with the business’s needs is essential, at the end of the day, Business Design is only a puzzle piece of Design Thinking.
The danger of introducing Business Design as a new discipline rather than a part of the Design Thinking framework is also real. Without considering other innovation elements, people who do not understand Design Thinking philosophy will blindly focus on designing for viability. Thus, in our effort to demystify Business Design, we build an awareness of what Business Design is all about through our training and certification program.
Critiques of Design Thinking and Its Improvements in Design Thinking 2.0
One of the most-heard critiques of the current Design Thinking framework is the lack of “Doing” and too much “Thinking”. In other words, the duration of a Design Thinking process sometimes can stretch from weeks to months without any tangible outcome. A non-contextual Business Design may become an unnecessary load in a Design Thinking process.
Contrary to the critique, a potential benefit of applying Design Thinking is to reduce time-to-market. Nonetheless, the non-existence of time limit throughout the Design Thinking process often hampers its time-saving advantage. For this reason, we need to set a time limit. Based on our experience, we have estimated a time limit of between five days to a maximum of three weeks in Design Thinking 2.0 to produce a Minimum Marketable Product (MMP).
Besides the elastic time problem, the current Design Thinking framework focuses the impact of innovation on individuals as independent beings (or sometimes units) rather than a part of a community or ecosystem. The self-reliant nature is not surprising because Design Thinking was conceived and incubated in Western society that gravitates towards individualism compared to collectivism.
A landmark publication of Design Thinking for Social Innovation was first published in 2010 when Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt describe how Shanti’s problem illustrates a missed opportunity for a better water production system due to its lack of cultural consideration in India. This publication highlights the importance of cultural inclusion in Design Thinking, thus commencing a shift of the mindset from individual consumer product experience towards broader thinking of collectivist, communal and systemic impact.
In Design Thinking 2.0, the collectivist, communal and eco-systemic impact formally takes a front seat with the other four other innovation elements. Impactability is no longer a by-product of a Design Thinking process, but a foundational component of Design Thinking 2.0 innovation. Collective local wisdom and knowledge are essential, and Positive Deviance has become a fundamental approach in Design Thinking 2.0.
It is a good idea to introduce Business Design, but it is undoubtedly a lousy execution if we take Business Design out of the context of Design Thinking. It is uncommon for a freshly graduate MBA to believe that Business Design is an exotic new discipline; In the process forgetting its root and misleading others. After reading this, I hope we can put Business Design in the right context within a Design Thinking framework, not as a new discipline. Let’s keep vocabulary inflation to a minimum.
Martin, R., & Martin, R. L. (2009). The design of business: Why design thinking is the next competitive advantage. Harvard Business Press.
Brown, T., & Wyatt, J. (2010). Design thinking for social innovation. Development Outreach, 12(1), 29–43.
Carlgren, L., Rauth, I., & Elmquist, M. (2016). Framing design thinking: The concept in idea and enactment. Creativity and Innovation Management, 25(1), 38–57.