“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs

Design Thinking (DT) is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find solutions for clients. It has become popular amongst business leaders over the past ten years, because product design firms have a high success rate for innovation. Innovators in the corporate world wanted to know how designers think and act, and how this could be applied to business strategy. Companies like P&G incorporated design thinking into innovation strategy, and a new industry of Design Thinking has emerged.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be, and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the customer).  A design mind-set is not problem-focused, it’s solution focused, and action oriented. It involves both analysis and imagination.

Harold Nelson, author of the Design Way says “Design is the action of bringing something new and desired into existence—a proactive stance that resolves or dissolves problematic situations by design. It is a compound of routine, adaptive and design expertise brought to bear on complex dynamic situations.”

When design principles are applied to strategy and innovation the success rate for innovation dramatically improves. Design thinking is at the core of effective strategy development and organizational change. The design way of thinking can be applied to systems, situations, procedures, protocols, and innovation. You can design the way you lead, manage, create and innovate. The purpose of design, ultimately, in my view, is to improve quality of life…and that includes work.

Recently DT has been criticized as a “failed experiment” and for being too simplistic. Most of the books on the subject have been too theoretical for non-designers to act on. DT also becomes problematic when designers reinvent themselves as trainers and management consultants, ignore systemic considerations, and over-simplify the design process. No wonder DT is drawing the wrath of critics.

Click here for info on how Design Thinking can be used to create innovative solutions.

Books on Design Thinking

The Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World


The Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World:
Foundations and Fundamentals of Design Competence

By Harold G. Nelson, and Erik Stolterman  (2002)

This book should be part of every design thinker’s library: It provides both depth and breadth of design thinking in a highly readable style. The book is a composition of ideas that creates an image of design, designers and designing as an integration of imagination, systemic reasoning and pragmatic action with applications in business, government, and the professions.  Stay tuned for an updated edition to be published early 2012.

Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers

Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers
by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie (May 20, 2011)

The authors have designed an excellent resource for design thinking, that functions as both a manual and a how-to tool kit for the entire creative process, from conception to implementation. They break down the design process into four questions: What if? What else? What wows? and What works? Within this framework, they provide ten tools which include specific guidelines for each step of the process, from assessing current reality through the customer’s eyes, assessing the current value chain that supports the customer’s journey, through to concept development, assumption testing, rapid prototyping, enrolling customers in co-creation, through to launching the innovation.

Check out my summer reading list on creativity and innovation here.