Design Thinking, the secret of business innovation

Remember that feeling of inadequacy in art class at school for ‘not being creative enough’? I do. To this day I’ve thought that I’m simply not cut out for being creative. And then, about a month ago while attending Katja Tschimmel and Mariana Valenca’s course, I finally realised I too can be creative. That’s when I became properly acquainted with Design Thinking.

As Brown (2009), Tschimmel (2012) and Liedtka and Ogilvie (2011) have asserted, we all have creative capabilities. We just need to have the right tools to dig them out and open our minds to see the world differently.

Human in the centre of business innovation

Among being useful for many things, Design Thinking (DT) provides essential tools for businesses to ‘get ahead of the game’. By combining the creative approach of design disciplines with rational, analytic problem-solving, DT helps to think divergently and expand options, which is unarguably beneficial when trying to come up with new business innovation.

What DT draws from design disciplines in particular is the emphatic human-centric view which starts with observing people in their natural surroundings. Starting a business innovation process this way is very important because it helps to understand customers’ true needs and create business that taps into their existing behaviour. This way customers are much more likely to relate to the new business.

Visualisation and iteration lead to better results

The DT process has been explained and visualised with several different kind of models over the years. There are also hundreds of existing DT tools. Yet, regardless of the model and tools used, the DT process always includes certain common aspects.

Design thinking process has been modelled in many different ways.

Design thinking process has been modelled in many different ways.

To start with, customer observation helps to identify different patterns and insights, which highlight the problem at hand. As DT theory stresses, patterns and understanding are often best formed by visualising learnings. Visualisation makes problems literally visible and thereby tangible and concrete.

Mind mapping is one visual DT technique. Photo: Katja Tschimmel

Mind mapping is one visual DT technique. Photo: Katja Tschimmel

There are numerous visualisation methods, but one effective method that no DT process should disregard is prototyping. Building a prototype is relatively inexpensive and easy – any material will do. A prototype helps to highlight possible future pitfalls of an idea that can become costly if not dealt with early enough. It’s always easy to take one step back in the development phase and try to improve the idea but it can be difficult to fix once it’s moulded into its final form. According to DT theory, working this way – iteratively – often leads to better results.

Cardboard boxes and Legos worked well as materials for our prototype. Photo: Katja Tschimmel

Cardboard boxes and Legos worked well as materials for our prototype. Photo: Katja Tschimmel

Storytelling engages

Now, working hard on an idea is all very well but even a great idea can die if it can’t be communicated effectively. Hence, storytelling is also in the core of a DT process. Every design thinker should aim to be a master storyteller with an ability to engage their audience on an emotional level. This is particularly important in a business innovation process because success is often tied to the whole company being engaged with the process and truly understanding what is being done.

A visual storyboard is an effective technique of storytelling, which we used in class. Photo: Katja Tschimmel

A visual storyboard is an effective technique of storytelling, which we used in class. Photo: Katja Tschimmel

Practice makes (a group) perfect

Naturally no one is born perfect and truly mastering the DT approach takes practice. What is beautiful about DT, though, is that it’s always a group effort. A DT process involves interdisciplinary teams where each team member builds on each others’ ideas and brings their personal strengths to the group. Little by little and as a group, with the help of creative Design Thinking, a great many things can be achieved.

 

Written by Henrietta Hautala

 

Sources:

Brown, T. (2009) Change by design: how design thinking can transform organizations and inspire innovation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Liedtka, J. & Ogilvie, T. (2011) Designing for growth: a design thinking tool kit for managers. New York: Columbia University Press.

Tschimmel, K. (2012) ‘Design Thinking as an Effective Toolkit for Innovation’ in Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation from Experience.

3 thoughts on “Design Thinking, the secret of business innovation

  1. Agree, it does not make sense to divide people into creative and non creative. Everyone can give input in a creative process. Creativity and design is about creating by humans > for humans. Service Design is the way to involve people and catch all ideas out there, as opposed to asking one designer to come up with the solution. Thi sis the main take-away I got from the course and indeed it was an eye-opener for me too.

  2. Thanks for the informative blog post Henrietta! I agree that while not everyone can be a ‘designer’, everyone can be a design thinker. I also like the point you mentioned about studying users in their natural environment because what really makes a difference in user studies is not what is said, but what happens between the lines.

  3. Hi Henrietta,
    I enjoyed reading your post; it was as a travel across the master class we shared with Katja and Mariana.
    There 3 aspect that you underline in your post that I highly agree:
    1. We all have creative capabilities, and DT is a practical discipline to unlock them.
    2. Making “things” visible, visualization is critical to enable deeper understanding about challenges.
    3. Wrapping the data and insights in stories engage people

    Thanks for the information in your post (and for the pictures ☺)

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