lightbulb

Q: How many designers does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: Why a lightbulb?

The question above provides the perfect illustration of what design thinking is all about.

Although difficult to get your head round at first, once you do, it opens up a world of possibilities for business and brand development that you would never have considered before.

This blog will examine and evaluate what design thinking is, how it works and how it is different from traditional analytical thinking.

While it is by no means the definitive thinking option, it offer you an alternative that might well produce richer, more exciting and more innovative solutions to a problem.

What is it?

Arguably traceable to the late 60s to the early 70s, with pioneers such as Herbert A. Simon and Robert McKim, design thinking has seen steady popularity growth in a number of sectors, including business and education.

The idea behind it is that the approach designers would use to create a product, is a process that can and should be transferred to other disciplines.

Rather than attacking a problem using a standard analytical method, approaching it from a design thinking perspective could open up new possibilities, allowing innovation at an advanced level.

How does it work?

The problem

Design thinking is all about approaching a problem from a different perspective. For example, if a brief was given to you to make a lamp, most analytical thinkers would base their design on lamps that were successful in the past, and maybe add an innovative feature that would make it stand out from the rest.

Design thinking, would approach the problem as “we’ve been tasked with creating a small source of light”. Already, this lifts all the restrictions of the analytical process, giving much more freedom at the ideas stage.

Lack of fear

Once the problem has been defined, the next step is to think of solutions.

In standard thinking, ideas for solutions tend to pass unconsciously through a viability filter policed by experience.

If you have been involved in a previous project such as devising a light source using paraffin, and that experiment did not work, you are probably unlikely to consider it as an option for your current project.

Along the same lines, you may be able to think of several occasions in your own business where someone has come up with an idea at a brainstorming session only to be shot down with “oh that won’t work, already tried it” or “come on, don’t be ridiculous”.

With design thinking, the idea is that no idea is too ridiculous for this initial stage of ideas-building. All ideas are judged equally and considered at the same level as possible solutions. The more people you have involved, the more ideas you can bounce around and the richer your results should be.

So don’t be afraid to consider the seemingly ridiculous.

Refinement

Once you have your ideas, it is important to realise that it’s ok to make mistakes. Analytical thinking would have you believe that the perfect solution has to be created before you can even think about putting it into action.

Design thinking is all about making mistakes. Trying something, seeing it fail and learning from those mistakes is, according to the theory, essential for achieving great things.

It’s about taking the whole collage of ideas, shaping it and moulding it into periods of experimentation and trialling.

Who is doing it?

Collection of comics

GE, one of many companies enjoying revenue boosts of up to 40% purely due to this idea creating paradigm (source: businessweek.com), have fully embraced the concept of design thinking.

Beginning meetings by reading comics, describing problems in haikus and drawing experience maps might sound like creativity pushed to the limits, but you can’t argue with the figures.

Even P&G have reported that using design thinking leads to a regular surpassing of design criteria.

The problem

If design thinking is so good, why isn’t everyone using it?

The problem is, there is no agreed definition or set of steps to follow to make it work as a principle for every business.

Companies like P&G and GE have made it work because they have taken the concept and applied it to their own internal processes (source: fastcodesign.com).

Instead of an easily adaptable process to generate innovation, you are faced with an uphill climb to develop a method of integrating design thinking into your organisation’s structure, as well as motivating employees to embrace your methods and working to develop your own set of measurements to track progress and achievement.

Plus, could you really convince the bosses that opening meetings by reading comics is the future?

Is it the future?

Ultimately, design thinking is a neat concept, and there probably does need to be more creativity in much of the analytical, efficiency driven business world.

However, without a set definition and method, you may find it almost impossible to get even a rudimentary version to take without it deforming into a bizarre and highly unproductive quasi-design/analytical process.

But this doesn’t mean design thinking can’t be amazing: If your company can do it, and you can apply it to your internal structures, you could produce impressive results through the massive range of freedom and innovation it is able to generate.

Furthermore, if you do it well, especially as a small business, one day you may look around and find your competition coughing and spluttering about in your proverbial dust.

Design Thinking: The new way to do business? by