The power of design thinking

And why you should consider using it to innovate and solve business problems.

Rashpal Bhati


On the first weekend of September amidst the beginnings of Finnish Autumn, the SID class of 2019 gathered at Laurea’s Leppävaara campus for their first contact session in Design Thinking. As we listened to the energetic tutor Katja Tschimmel, we were introduced to the history of Design Thinking.

It all started in 1969 with Herbert Simon who pondered the science of design in his book The Science of the Artificial, investigating its problem solving logic and potential place in the workplace and professional disciplines. Between 1980-90 this earlier work was further developed into visual design thinking and the design process, by Bryan Lawson (1986) and Peter Rowe (1987).

Design Thinking as a term and discipline really gained business attention during the 2000’s with publications like The Art of Innovation by Tim Brown & Jonathan Littmann as well as a seminal article in HBR by Tim Brown (2008) where Design Thinking as a business term was first popularised. Tim Brown highlighted that “Design Thinking expresses the introduction of design methods and culture into fields beyond traditional design, such as business innovation”.

Thinking like designers

Storyboarding ‘Study Buddy’ concept

This theoretical foundation led us to form student groups and explore practical design thinking for ourselves. Through the goal of designing better services for Laurea and thinking like designers we ventured into using visualization, prototyping and holistic methodology. We looked at various visual design models which explain the design thinking process, before settling on the Evolution 6² model which was followed for two days of intense group work activities culminating in the presenting of our ‘Study Buddy’ visual elevator pitch to the rest of the groups and faculty.

Many of us found the creation process rewarding and I echo Tim Brown’s sentiment from his 2008 HBR article that “Thinking like a designer can transform the way you develop products, services, processes – and even strategy.”

Design Thinking by Tim Brown, HBR, June 2008

He tales the inventor Thomas Edison whom he describes as having broken the mold of the ‘lone genius inventor’ by creating a team-based approach to innovation. We experienced the positive effects of this multidisciplinary approach first hand within our own teams. I can also identify with Brown’s sentiment that innovation is hard, and requires countless rounds of trial and error – the “99% perspiration.”

Brown explored the potential of design thinking to create customer value and market opportunity and posited that asking designers to create ideas that meet consumers’ needs and desires is strategic and leads to dramatic new forms of value. In closing he suggested that “business leaders would do well to incorporate design thinking into all phases of the innovation process.” I think this is sound advice when we look at today’s increasingly digitised economy as well as shifts in societal needs and greater environmental consciousness; society and its more engaged citizens demand action and solutions to deliver sustainable modern living with greater empathy for our shared global responsibility, incorporating the human-centered and holistic design thinking frameworks could indeed play a greater role in delivering these strategic and value driven benefits.

Usefullness of design thinking

Design Attitude by Kamil Michlewski, 2015

Kamil Michlewski in Design Attitude, 2015 discusses the usefulness of organisations taking design inspired frameworks like Design Thinking or its sub–genre Service Design to unlock their innovation pipeline to achieve meaningful business innovation objectives. Although design is “still on the margins of interest of most business schools” he states “design ideas are starting to significantly inform public service provision and policies including UK, Danish governments, and more recently, the EU has been pursuing design-inspired innovation policies. He cites gov.uk as a great example of the impact of design inspired frameworks, and refers to it as a UK government digital service run remarkably like a service design consultancy with full focus on the user with great aesthetic dimension.  Or MindLab, the Danish Government’s innovation unit that involves citizens and businesses in creating new solutions for society.

These examples Michlewski says, highlights the power of following a design-driven approach, it empowers managers and business people to think more laterally, creatively and openly, and importantly to experiment and iterate solutions within the business environment they will be deployed. This resonated with our group and following the 2-day contact session we also felt more empowered by what we had learned, and experienced firsthand, about the potential and power of design thinking.

References:

Tschimmel, K. 2019. Design Thinking. [lectures]. Held on 6-7 September. Laurea University of Applied Sciences.

Tschimmel, K. (2018). Evolution 6² : An E-handbook for Practical Design Thinking for Innovation. MindShake.

Brown, T. 2008. Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-95.

Michlewski, Kamil 2015. Design Attitude. Farnham, Surrey: Gower.

Published 25 September 2019

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