A quick introduction to design thinking

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation.

Why design thinking matters

If you’re a designer yourself, you already know why design matters. Alas, we’re seeing such a massive transformation across the business world that it’s worth recapping on why design is such as crucial advantage for modern enterprises – and how companies can get on top of this new trend to deliver more valuable experiences to their customers.

We’ve written before about why business leaders should be investing in design. Today, we thought we’d expand a bit on that to try and understand how design can play a key role in modern corporate environments. Introducing the methodology known as ‘design thinking’.

So what is it? According to Tim Brown, CEO of global innovation and design firm IDEO:

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

In other words, it’s a way to approach problems that up until now was perceived as being exclusive to designers – except it’s not. With a ‘designer hat’ on, businesses now can take full advantage of how they can deliver value through the right technology, in a way that propels them to new interesting grounds.

Seems simple in theory, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Nonetheless, there are three key principles that we believe will help businesses get on track with this and embrace design as a core practice. Here we go.

Principle #1. Think ‘how might we?’

These three words seem simple, almost obvious, but according to IDEO CEO Tim Brown they will get everyone aligned when it comes to creative problem solving. In Tim’s words:

‘How’ assumes that solutions exist and provides the creative confidence needed to identify and solve for unmet needs. ‘Might’ says that we can put ideas out there that might work or might not—either way, we’ll learn something useful. ‘We’ signals that we’re going to collaborate and build on each other’s ideas to find creative solutions together.

‘How might we?’ is the best way to start a discussion in a completely positive tone. Sure, there is a problem that needs solving and your team are tasked to solve it, but never forget that design thinking is first and foremost a collective learning exercise in which prototypes and iterations play a key role – but more on that in a minute.

Principle #2. Make it collaborative… to a point

According to PepsiCo’s Chief Design Officer, design is something that’s at the core of any meaningful brand experience. If we consider that successful brand experiences are the result of a company-wide effort, then why shouldn’t design be as well? As Zami Majuqwana, strategist at Wolff Olins, mentioned recently, “design and strategy are friends, not foes”. But there’s a twist.

There is a fantastic overview at The Next Web around why everyone in a company plays, one way or the other, the role of a designer. Among its most interesting conclusions is the idea that design is a collaborative effort… until it’s not. This doesn’t mean that we should continue feeding the ‘lone innovator’ or ‘creative genius’ myths, but rather that when it comes to company-wide creative problem solving it’s important to know at which stage each stakeholder should be involved.

By starting with a broad mindset with many stakeholders but then knowing when to trim both the volume of possible solutions and people involved in actually executing them, companies will be in a much better position to make the best possible use of design to change a real problem. This of course doesn’t mean that design acts in silo – it is, after all, a two-way street – but both from a leadership and ownership point of view it’s indispensable to develop truly innovative solutions. (Ever heard of ‘designs by committee’? Precisely.)

Principle #3. Make prototyping your best friend

Beyond the purely academic definitions of what a prototype is, one of the best we saw came from PepsiCo’s Chief Design Officer profile on Harvard Business Review. In a nutshell, prototypes are tools to better align collective vision around the potential outcomes of a project.

Remember the ‘learning exercise’ point above? That’s where prototypes come in. By starting with a broad scope of possibilities which are trimmed down as the team progresses, prototypes demonstrate in a very tangible way what the current solutions would look like, allowing everyone to discuss around its specifications instead of abstract notions and ideas.

It’s also important to understand that the design thinking methodology requires a lot of trial and error, with iterations along the way. The point is not to get it right at the very first try by magically thinking like a designer, but rather making use of design principles to understand which options are or not viable, and proceeding with the ones that truly add value to the business, the brand and its customers.

Design is everywhere, let’s start thinking like designers

IDEO’s Tim Brown famously said a few years ago that:

The goal of prototyping isn’t to finish. It is to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the idea and to identify new directions that further prototypes might take.

We see the same as being true for the goal of design thinking for businesses. It’s particularly hard to nail down the perfect solution by a stroke of brilliance, which leaves the second best option: to rally a group of inter-disciplinary people from your company, empathising with and discussing the problems that need solving, exploring multiple routes on a practical level, learning from them and implementing the solutions that will make the bigger difference.

This is something we’re aiming to help solve with Creative Cloud for Enterprise. Above all, it represents the exciting times we live in – let’s step into the next level of business by thinking like designers.