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Design Thinking as a Strategy for Innovation

How do you create a strategy for guaranteeing that innovation and creativity flourish in your organization?

When design principles are applied to strategy and innovation the success rate for innovation dramatically improves. Design-led companies such as Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool have outperformed the S&P 500 over the past 10 years by an extraordinary 219%, according to a 2014 assessment by the Design Management Institute.

Great design has that “wow” factor that makes products more desirable and services more appealing to users. 

Due to the remarkable success rate of design-led companies, design has evolved beyond making objects. Organizations now want to learn how to think like designers, and apply design principles to the workplace itself. Design thinking is at the core of effective strategy development and organizational change.

“Design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business…to create advances in both innovation and efficiency—the combination that produces the most powerful competitive edge.”
—Roger Martin, author of the Design of Business

“Design is the ability to move from the existing to the preferred. The future is a design problem.”
— John Kao

You can design the way you lead, manage, create and innovate. The design way of thinking can be applied to systems,  procedures, protocols, and customer/user experiences. The purpose of design, ultimately, in my view, is to improve the quality of life for people and the planet.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find desirable solutions for clients. A design mindset is not problem-focused, it’s solution focused and action oriented towards creating a preferred future. Design thinking seeks to build ideas up, unlike critical thinking which breaks them down. 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).

“Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”
– Tim Brown CEO, IDEO

Distinctions Between Design and Design Thinking

“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 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.”
—Harold Nelson, The Design Way

Nigel Cross (2007), in his book Designerly Ways of Knowing, says, “Everything we have around us has been designed. Design ability is, in fact, one of the three fundamental dimensions of human intelligence. Design, science, and art form an ‘AND’ not an ‘OR’ relationship to create the incredible human cognitive ability.”

  • Science — finding similarities among things that are different
  • Art — finding differences among things that are similar
  • Design — creating feasible ‘wholes’ from infeasible ‘parts’

It makes sense, therefore, to break out of the silos we have created in organizations and develop a cross-disciplinary inquiry to foster innovation. (Read my interview with John Seely Brown on the intersection of art and science at Xerox Parc)

A Framework for Design Thinking

Design thinking for innovation

Design thinking offers a structured framework for understanding and pursuing innovation in ways that contribute to organic growth and add real value to your customers. Creativity is central to the design process. The design thinking cycle involves observation to discover unmet needs within the context and constraints of a particular situation, framing the opportunity and scope of innovation, generating creative ideas, testing and refining solutions.

double-diamond design model

This diagram illustrates the design thinking framework created by The Design Council (UK), which maps the design process into four distinct phases: Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver. This illustrates the divergent and convergent stages of the design process.

Design thinking informs human-centered innovation

Human-centered innovation begins with developing an understanding of customers’ or users’ unmet or unarticulated needs.“The most secure source of new ideas that have true competitive advantage, and hence, higher margins, is customers’ unarticulated needs,” says Jeanne Liedtka (Batten Briefings 2015). “Customer intimacy—a deep knowledge of customers and their problems—helps to uncover those needs.”

Design thinking minimizes the uncertainty and risk of innovation by engaging customers or users through a series of prototypes to learn, test and refine concepts. Design thinkers rely on customer insights gained from real-world experiments, not just historical data or market research.

Develop Design Thinking capabilities in your organization

You don’t have to be a designer to think like one. While learning to be a good designer takes years, you can think like a designer and design the way you lead, manage, create and innovate. Design begins with setting a strategic intention. If you are mapping out a strategy, you are designing.

Design thinking involves learning by doing

Explore the strategic dimensions of design thinking and learn practical tools and techniques that integrate right-brain imagination, artistry and intuition with left-brain logic, analysis, and planning. Methods for thinking like a designer include observing, interviewing, creating personas, empathy mapping, storyboards, associational thinking, creating low-tech prototypes, and decision-making analysis. In other words, design is a whole-brain creative thinking process.

  • Develop the mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets of designers, artists, and innovators
  • How to connect more deeply with customers to discover opportunities for innovation
  • Break through barriers that have kept you stuck
  • Experiment with idea generation, critical thinking, aesthetic ways of knowing, problem-solving and rapid-prototyping
  • Foster a culture that enhances creativity and innovation
  • Generate ideas to seed your innovation ecosystem

Find out how design thinking can help you achieve innovation success.

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