Modern design thinking does not replace the traditional approach to design but rather adds a new layer. Today we think broader: anyone can learn to apply design thinking to any innovation challenge (Carlgren, Elmquist & Rauth 2014, p. 30). The imagination is the only limit since design thinking can be utilised to the traditional products as well as to ecosystems (Brown, TED talk, 15:34). Therefore, it can be used for improving corporate management, cracking climate change challenge or enhancing healthcare services in developing countries, just to mention few examples.
Liedtka and Ogilvie (2011, p. 21) have taken a systematic approach towards modern design thinking and suggest a set of questions which give guidance through-out the design process: What is? What if? What wows? What works? According to them, by asking these questions we are able to have a systematic approach to wider variety of design challenges. The model (see Figure 1) takes Tim Brennan’s well known design-is-a-mystery drawing a bit further and gives a practical tool-set for each of the four stages. Visualisation is the common thread that runs through the entire process.
I would like to walk you through the four critical steps of this design process. In order to have a bit richer view over the process, additional remarks will be included from Katja Tschimmel and Tim Brown.
What is – Take a reality check!
To find viable future opportunities, we need to study the present and find “real” people’s needs and desires (Tschimmel 2019). Furthermore, we need to look at how customers currently frame their problems and the mental models. While studying this, we should understand the culture and the context in order to gain a comprehensive view (Brown, TED talk, 5:38).
Part of the task is achieved by analysing existing data. In addition, tools like media analysis, journey mapping, value chain analysis and mind mapping are needed to gather qualitative information.
What if – Vision the perfect world!
In order to be truly innovative, think variety, multiple perspectives and fight against stereotypes (Tschimmel 2019). Also, scout for new trends and uncertainties. Based on your study and the information gathered in the previous stage, we can now formulate hypotheses about the desirable future. Tools like brainstorming and concept development have been proven to be useful when envisioning the future.
What wows – Find the sweet spot!
Now we need to make some difficult choices in order to hit sweet spots that offer significant value for the customers in a profitable way. This requires testing the hypotheses carefully and studying the data available (Liedtka & Ogilvie 2011, p. 127). The ambitious goal is to test the future in the present – not an easy task. Assumption testing, business canvas, desktop walkthrough and rapid prototyping, for example, are valuable tools in this process.
What works – Fail early to succeed sooner!
Learning by making is the key for the successful design process (Brown, TED talk, 7:03). Prototypes speed up the process and give us critical information on strengths and weakness of our solution. In this learning-in-action-process it is important to work in fast feedback cycles in order to minimise the experimenting costs and to maximise the information flow (Liedtka & Ogilvie 2011, p. 33). Remember, that without some failures nothing truly innovative will not merge (Tschimmel 2019). Consumer co-creation, prototype testing and learning launch are examples of usable methods in this stage.
And what are my key learnings from this “spiced-up” version of the design process? Firstly, success does not come for free: it requires a large set of tools, systematic thinking, holistic perspective and willingness to fail. Secondly, active collaboration is the key for truly successful innovations and meaningful designs. Thirdly, people must be kept in mind every step of the way – or as Tim Brown puts it – “Design is too important to be left to designers!” (Brown, TED talk, 10:45).
Carlgren, L, Elmquist, M. & Rauth, I. 2014. Exploring the use of design thinking in large organisations: Towards a research agenda. Swedish Design Research Journal 1/14.
Liedtka, J & Ogilvie, T. 2011. Designing for growth: A design thinking tool kit for managers. Columbia University Press.
Tschimmel, K. 2019. Design Thinking lectures on 6–7 September 2019. Laurea University of Applied Sciences.
Tim Brown. 2009. Design Thinking: TED Talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=J0ZbVAQ8bWI