Archive by Author | Heljä Franssila

Is Design Thinking the right approach for every development project?

Heljä Franssila
First-year SID student and comms professional


The first three-day study phase focusing on the basics of Design Thinking left me inspired, yet somewhat confused. When going back home after our last day together, I could not help wondering if design thinking really is a method we can use for every development project.

Under the guidance of Katja Tschimmel, our group had set out to find a solution for establishing an agenda for an ecologically sustainable Laurea University, starting from the Leppävaara campus.

In our task, we quickly ran through the phases of a design process from understanding to testing, following the Design Thinking Model of the Hasso-Plattner Institute (Tschimmel 2012, 9), or from discovery to delivery, as in the model of the Design Council (2012, 9) – or from emergence to exposition, as in the E.6² model by Tschimmel’s company Mindshake. Our case was solid in the sense that the challenge we were facing is a real one – how to create a sustainable campus in the times of an ecological crisis – but instead of creating a holistic action plan for the university, the design thinking method basically lead us to developing a mobile app for students. It was obvious that in real life, this kind of solution alone would not help Laurea to a more sustainable future in the large scale.

As an answer to my doubts, Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie assure me in their book Designing for Growth (2011) that we still need business thinking in addition to design thinking tools (Liedtka and Ogilvie 2011, 29). They enlist three reasons why combining business thinking models with design thinking tools leads to success. Here, in the context of our campus project, I understand the concept of ‘business thinking’ as a synonym to strategic thinking or other more traditional management models. Liedtka and Ogilvie argue that business thinking is needed because novelty, which is sought after in design innovation processes, does not necessarily create value, and sometimes even value creation is not enough. There are many other elements which must be taken into account, too, when managing a business, or, in our case, running a university (2011, 29).

Finally, according to Liedtka and Ogilvie, we must always consider whether the world really needs our innovation (2011, 29). This is probably the most crucial factor why our group’s innovation would not have survived the testing phase in the design process, as it simply would not deliver a viable solution to the challenge of a sustainable university.

Drawing portraits was a clever way of getting to know each member of our group. It also simply helped us to remember who is who. Yet it felt difficult to sketch a face of a class mate who you didn’t know at all, as the results of one-minute drawings weren’t most flattering! Image: Heljä Franssila


Victory with visuals

What are the strengths of design process, then? For me, the biggest revelation from Tschimmel’s masterclass and the study materials was the power of communicating ideas with visualisations, such as sketches, drawings and prototypes. As communications professional, I have thought to have understood the high value of photographs, videos and illustrations, but now I realise how strongly my thinking is dominated by words and text.

Tschimmel, as well as Liedtka and Ogilvie, encourage us to test and improve our hypothesis by experimentation (Liedtka and Ogilvie, 2011, 39), which can be easily done by rapid sketches and unpolished prototypes (Tschimmel 2012, 16). Using visualisation instead of text decreases the project risk remarkably, as text is much more open to interpretation than pictures and illustrated stories. The text easily leads each participant to imagine their own mental schema about the topic, which can lead to arguments when differing ideas are found out (Lietdka and Ogilvie 2011, 51). It is also recommended to do rapid prototyping as soon as possible, as it is cost-effective to fail at the early stage than in later development (Tschimmel 2012, 16).

In our study project, it first felt impossible to me to visualise my ideas either by drawing or by building legos (“why can’t I just write it!”)  but I see it now very clearly why developing visualisation skills is absolutely necessary for an aspiring service designer such as me. I am looking forward to my future as the first-rate lego builder.



References:

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

Tschimmel, K. 2012. Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona.

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