Design Thinking: Streamlining Creativity

A reflection by Alvaro Valls Boix and Erson Halili – Students at Service Innovation and Design MBA @Laurea UAS

Defining Creativity is a complex task, since the term is interpreted differently in different cultures and contexts. However, from a cognitive and mental activity perspective, Creativity is defined as the cognitive capacity to develop something new where we can identify that it’s a cognitive ability. This means that the cognitive ability it’s in all of us, loaded in our ’Operating Systems’ from the factory.  

Did you know that ALL individuals can be creative? Yes, you read it right! According to Kelley and Kelley (Kelley 2013), and academic publications (Tschimmel 2021), not only creativity is present in all individuals, but it can also be nurtured and developed, like a muscle, with practice and persistence.

What’s more, the basic skills to exercise and train creativity through themselves and their combination are well identified (“Perception, Interrogation, Comparison and Language” Tschimmel 2021), allowing that an individual can really develop its creativity, in the scope of personal and professional creativity.

However, being creative requires more than that. In addition to exercising our creative brain, being creative requires bravery to explore the unknown as well as acknowledging that failure is an essential part of the creativity process. This is an inspiring example of a singer composing a song live during a podcast. 

Image by Urhan TV from Pixabay

Creativity skills are critical in today’s and future working life. Survey results among CEOs reported that “creativity is the single most important leadership skill for enterprises engaged in the complex world of global commerce, where innovative solutions are necessary to pave the best possible path to success” (Kelley 2013).

Considering its importance, you might wonder, how can companies, organisations and individuals utilise creativity to solve complex real-life problems. Before we jump into the answer, let’s explore the types of problems. According to Jeremy Alexis from Illinois Institute of Technology, “There are two types of problems. There are mysteries and there are puzzles. “Puzzles” are problems where when you have the right level of data disclosure, when you have that absolute number, the problem can be solved […] On the contrary, in “mysteries”, there is no single piece of data, there is no level of data disclosure that will actually solve a problem. In fact, there might be too much data, and it’s about interpreting all the data that’s there. And that’s a richer, harder problem” (Cited in Liedtka 2012).

Based on this definition, we will focus on the second type, the ‘mysteries’, in which human interpretation is essential. Solving these complex challenges requires a comprehensive way of thinking and problem-solving mindset, and a multidimensional perspective. That is called Design Thinking (DT) which is described as a way of thinking which leads to transformation, evolution and innovation. Nonetheless, DT it’s not only a cognitive process but a valuable method for innovation processes (Tschimmel, K., 2012).

Streamlining Creativity

And this is the point in which we start streamlining the power of creativity, based on the principles of design methodology (Tschimmel 2021), into the DT method.

Design Thinking, with its principles, process models and toolkit, is a method that offers the opportunity to apply design tools to problem-solving-contexts with the form of businesses, services or organisational change.

Consultancy agencies and companies of all sizes use the DT method to address innovation through solutions to “wicked” problems in any kind of circumstances in which a product or service can be offered to users: health, travel, finance, mobility, industry, etc. 

DT Process and Tools: Where to Start?

DT is usually represented by process models, to represent conceptually a high-level road map of stages to be followed during the innovation process. It also allows beginners and not versed in the matter to understand at a high level the process and don’t get lost.

But wait… DT… one method… and how many different process models? Which is the most effective one?

DT mashup picture

As the DT discipline emerged, different institutions and organisations created their own process models, following their interpretation of what the process should be and what worked better for them (Tschimmel, 2012), although having all of them the DT principles at the core, and keeping evident parallelisms. Process models by IDEO, British Design Council, Stanford, Hasso-Platter Institute of Design,… could be the most popular or recognizable ones, but the fact is that many others also exist and will keep emerging. 

A picture from the process model followed at the DT Master class workshop in SID 2022, by Mindshake

How to Navigate the Abundance of DT Models and Tools?

The best process model can only be the one that works best for you, in your own context, with your own target audience, and the ability to choose it can just come with practice and understanding of the process.

In the beginning of the practice of DT, a process model can be a good friend and guide you through the stages of the process, giving you perspective and understanding, but the thing is that it cannot become a straitjacket. An acknowledged practitioner of DT and its principles, will use his/her own process model, maybe having as reference one or more of the existing ones, but tweaking it here and there, according to experience and concrete circumstances and needs of each project. A process model will rarely be followed as a recipe. On the contrary, the DT lead will conduct the team through different sequences of divergence (to zoom out and have a wide perspective, and consider many possibilities) and convergence (to zoom in, identifying concepts and patterns and selecting the most resonating ones) according to the requirements of the project and findings, using in each case the tool that best fits his/her purposes. In this sense, the more abstract a process model is, the more likely that it better describes a real project.

As a key takeaway, choose the model that looks best for you, test it in innovation and creative projects and tailor it and make it yours through practice. The power of creativity will take you beyond your expectations!


7 thoughts on “Design Thinking: Streamlining Creativity

  1. I really liked how you differentiated the terms “mysteries” and “puzzles”, and brought it to streamline creativity with the design thinking tools and processes. Oh, and I couldn’t agree more, everyone can be creative! Good job!

  2. “All models are wrong, but some a useful” was said in context of statistics, but I think it applies to our attempts to model design processes, innovation work or how to be creative. Every model will prioritise some aspect over another or leave if they are very detailed. On the other hand if a model is abstract and more generic it will leave more decisions and work for the facilitator. Regardless, you need a process model to get started to be your guide. As you say, later you can adapt, modify or build your own. I really like the challenge of picking the right tool for the moment in the room, goal for that moment and based on the audience.

  3. Design Thinking as a ‘mysteries’ solving technique gives an impression that, with Design Thinking, no problem is too big to solve. However, a phenomenon known as the butterfly effect shows that the systems around us are chaotic and prone to sudden change. If we accept that the social systems in which we design are complex and unpredictable, the tension becomes clear. Design thinking exists in a chaotic and unpredictable context, however, the act of predicting is dominant.

    Following thoughts on navigating Design Thinking models and tools, I agree that intuition and rationality are interrelated, and both should be taken as important influences on the design thinking process. Furthermore, the intuitive approach seems so fundamental to creativity.

  4. I really enjoyed how your post flows from the definition and importance of creativity to how to be more creative with the help of Design Thinking. It is great that you brought up failure being an important part of the creativity process. I fully agree that we need to be brave enough to tolerate failure in the process – learning and developing through failure can be even encouraged in Design Thinking.

    You also summarized good advice on how to start in the jungle of various different DT models and tools: use what works best for you!

  5. I really enjoyed reading your post, you have very good arguments as to how we all can be creative, but you have to have courage to shift your mindset and put in the hard work. I found very interesting the puzzle/mystery metaphor used to explain the type of problems Design Thinking can help solve, I realized I had not considered the perspective of “having too much pieces of the puzzle” can be as challenging as not having any. This can often happen when solving complex problems, there is so much things you can do, so many jobs-to-be-done and so many stakeholders to consider that the challenge is to decide where to begin.

  6. I really liked your diction in this blog post, it is interesting and progressive. You have a lot of examples, which explains well those theoretical terms. In one blog post there is an inclusive description from a definition of creativity to Design Thinking and its tools. If you will publish another blog post in a future, let me know.

  7. A great post that was structured well with central concepts (creativity; its prerequisites, training and problems, and Design Thinking; its use, process and tools). The way you used different sources within your text was very eloquent and logical: You located them both as direct quotes, references and external links. The use of bold worked well too, even though it was at the verge of being too much.

    About the content: I would simply define Design Thinking as an innovation tool according to Tschimmel (2012). I liked your idea of DT process model as a guide or a friend, who takes you through the process, and that after you have gained experience, you can start to use your own creativity to adjust that model to fit your specific needs. I had been wondering what it is that unifies all the DT process models and after reading your post, I realized that it is the repetitive divergent and convergent waves of creative thinking regardless of the amount of the different phases in the process model. Thank you!

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