Design Thinking – the challenge in daring to embrace the mess of non linear thinking.
Be empathetic, gather courage and nurture creativity to make Breakthroughs.
I would like to Thank our energetic lecturer Katja Tschimmel for sharing her knowledge and experiences on Design Thinking. Thank to Virpi Kaartti for providing great support during the Study and Thank to all my fellow students for such an amazing ongoing experience.
This blog is covering two parts. 1) My perspective and highlight on Design Thinking and Innovation 2) Learning during Laurea contact sessions.
My perspective and highlight on Design Thinking and Innovation
I have gained a little insight about the potential of Design Thinking and how design thinking approach can lead to create innovations to improve existing conditions and make impact.
I can already feel that Design Thinking is slowly transforming my approach towards solving problems and my realization that empathy is so much central towards design thinking.
Design Thinking is powerful, a great methodology which provides framework for understanding empathy, nurturing creativity and using early prototyping towards breakthrough innovations.
Also, keeping an open mindset to grow and learn at the same time paves the way to unleash our true unknown potential, including creativity hidden among all of us.
Here, I would like to emphasize and highlight on key aspects of Design Thinking.
“Here was a curious thing. My friend’s instinct told him the North End was a good place, and his social statistics confirmed it. But everything he had learned as a physical planner about what is good for people and good for cities neighbourhoods, everything that made him an expert, told him the North End had to be a bad place.” Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Change by Design 
In the very first masterclasses about Design Thinking running by Katja Tschimmel and Marina Valenca we, toddlers in the field and students in Service Innovation and Design Programme, went into renaissance era of the design which now is perceived and used as a perfectly crafted methodology by a wider audience including business itself. Big Bang of Design Thinking which – as we were assured – Comes of Age!  As lectures went fast with a short history of design and presented different approaches to the design process to smoothly show us their own – well equipped with a whole range of precisely picked tools ; like many others, I was waiting for practical part of the meeting. For doing stuff not learning about it, to experience it, to feel it in my heart and to answer fundamental questions: what is, what if, what wows and what works . After all, I took home some thoughts which I present below.
If you were asked to describe DT you probably would start drawing something, using Post-its notes, prototyping anything but not words themselves. Visualisation played a priority during our jam session. There is no way to disagree with Liedtka & Ogilvie that “Visualisation make ideas tangible and concrete. […] make them human and real.”  It also allows us to avoid misunderstanding and misinterpretation. After that few hours together it is hard to polemise with Katja while saying that “designers analyse and understand problems of the artificial world.” in the meaning that every tangible aspect of the performance was before the creation of intangible thoughts, ideas, notions, and intuition. From this perspective visualisation lets us grab our unrevealed ideas, bring them to the surface and make them enough concrete to evaluate. It also put individual and collective intuition before learning and maybe this is what I the most love about it.
A stream of consciousness.
If I were asked to show the greatest values of Design Thinking process, I would say that its collaborative, multidisciplinary and co – creative aspects are the most precious one. I enjoyed brain-writing part of our session vastly. But, we always put a human in the heart of all “doing”. In Virginia Woolf’s book the different aspects of Ms. Dalloway; her needs, feelings, context, and experiences are constantly subjected to individual and collective influence and turn from intentions into reality. In DT process it all above makes possible to arise great and innovative idea anchored in the essence of an end user of the service or offering.
Nevertheless to make it happen, I learned that we need to listen to others with engagement on every possible step. In my opinion, like visualisation is the tool of understanding and expressing all ideas and thoughts as listening is the value without which no meaningful idea can authentically bloom. I like how about listening speaks Otto Scharmer and I leave you with his short video to contemplate where innovation and tipping point in any sector starts. Enjoy!
1. “Change by design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation.” Tim Brown
2. “Design Thinking Comes to Age”, Jan Kolko Harvard Bussiness Review, https://hbr.org/2015/09/design-thinking-comes-of-age
3. “Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation.”, Katja Tschimmel http://www.academia.edu/1906407/Design_Thinking_as_an_effective_Toolkit_for_Innovation
4. “Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers.”, Liedtka & Ogilvie
Business today is about emotions, wants and wishes. The traditional role of business management has been to ensure the efficiency of use of resources. The world has changed, and customers don’t settle to the cheapest and most practical products and services anymore. As we already have almost everything we actually need, we are now increasingly seeking to fulfil our wishes and wants. That’s just human.
The human essence of Design Thinking
To meet these new demands, we need tools that are human-centric, cultural and social, and which keep innovation at the cord. One way to answer these needs is by applying Design Thinking.
The essence of Design Thinking is human to human. It’s a holistic process that unpacks the whole process to human touch points and takes in consideration not only the service process but also the feelings that affect to our decisions through the whole process. Experiences are not just functional, but also social, cultural and personal. They are important in value creation, because experiences are meaningful to people.
Design thinking helps to understand customer needs and create new value
Design Thinking is a way to apply tools traditionally used by designers to a problem-solving-contexts in business, services and processes. A collaborative way of working helps designers to gain mutual and holistic understanding of the problem. In the process of idea creation, 1+1 equals more than 2. Since visual perception is dominant for us, visualisation and prototypes are crucial in communication of ideas and opportunities. Applying of Design Thinking tools and methods can help business managers to identify, visualise, and solve problems in systematic and creative way.
Design Thinking considers human needs, emotions and feelings just as important as functionality and rationality. It requires from a designer capability to consider human needs, available recourses and constrains, and opportunities at the same time. Designer has to be analytical and emphatic, rational and emotional, methodological and intuitive, oriented by plans and constraints, but spontaneous, and all at the same time (Pombo & Tschimmel 2005).
Herbert Simon’s ideas of design-centric mode of thinking are foundational to the practice. He considered design as “the transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones”, and described design-centric thinking as a process of “building up” ideas, in comparison to critical thinking and analytic process of “breaking down” ideas.
Design Thinking methods can help us appreciate and understand connections between people, places, objects, events and ideas. It drives innovation that is based on future opportunities rather than past events. It focuses on human behaviour, relationships, interactions and emotions. By combining business methods with Design Thinking, organisations can establish more sensitive and comprehensive knowledge, and better understand operational environment. Design Thinking methods like ethnographic research, customer journey mapping, storytelling and rapid prototypes are tools to create understanding through empathy and collaboration. They help to identify the needs and goals and emotions of customers. And because emotions greatly affect in our decision-making, it is possible to make services and products more desirable by adding emotional elements.
Although some amount of efficiency and standardisation will always have a place in business processes, it’s the human touch points which give the greater meaning to products, services and brands. And that is where the new value is being created.
* This post has been inspired by the book Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School by Idris Mootee, and Katja Tschimmels article Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation.
Current State and Recent Challenges of the Concept
In autumn 2009 Tim Brown published his influential book ‘Change by Design’, an introduction to Design Thinking for business leaders. Shortly thereafter, in early 2010, I read it for the first time while studying in a post-graduate course at the HPI School of Design Thinking. Now, five years later, I am studying Design Thinking again as part of Laurea’s MBA programme, while Brown shares an update in HBR’s latest edition and — simultaneously — the HPI publishes a large study on the current state of the concept. Time for a review of the concept and its application.
The Many Meanings of Design Thinking
In 2009, Brown described Design Thinking as a set of principles, as an exploratory, human-centred process and systematic approach to innovation that can be applied for problem solving. He argued that it balances the perspectives of users, technology, and business. Throughout the book he named its ingredients, ideal organisational setup-up, its divergent and convergent phases. Eventually he pitched the idea that the presented techniques, originated in design studios, should spread inside of organisations and be integrated by other disciplines. Brown suggested to use Design Thinking within interdisciplinary teams to manage innovation portfolios and transform organisations.
The Practitioner’s Point of View
According to a recently published study Brown’s hopes became realities — at least partly. Yet, as diverse as Brown described the concept of Design Thinking (principles, techniques, process) in 2009 as much ambiguity did a group of HPI researchers find now when questioning international practitioners through a survey and qualitative interviews. While almost all survey respondents described it as an ‘iterative process’, only about 60% named it a ‘method or methodology’. Only a tenth of the participants referred to it as a ‘culture’.
In Brown’s vision the entire organisation would commit itself to this human-centred practise. What might start off in an innovation cell would then branch out and be applied to bigger projects. Eventually Design Thinking would become integrated into all of the organisation’s processes and be holistically embedded. The study findings, however, show that in practise such deep cultural integration is far from being the norm. For 3/4 of the organisations which apply Design Thinking it is located ‘somewhere in the organisation’, predominantly in a dedicated department. For about 1/6 Design Thinking is being used for strategic management and decision making. Only a little more than a quarter of the participants stated that it is intrinsic to the overall culture. Most likely Design Thinking is currently localised in a special function instead of being widely embraced, the researchers conclude. 10% of the respondents even stated that they abandoned the concept in the meantime.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
On a recent FaceTime session with my five-year-old niece I was proud to report that I played with Legos at school this week. Yeah, my school is pretty cool.
Since then, I have been left wondering what it means that a five-year-old identifies with my day while I am still left struggling to convince some of my client’s executive teams I am doing more than playing with their money. Eager to gain insight into this question, I searched for a way to explain how designers balance the benefits of play and the design attitude within the context of more traditional business attitudes.
In a way, ‘playing with Legos’ is an analogy for the way others see Design Thinking. What some don’t see is when designers ‘play with Legos’ we are not replacing seriousness with play, but rather using play as a compliment and a method of visual communication (Michlewski 2015, 107).
During Katja Tschimmel’s workshop in the M62 methodology of Design Thinking, my team had many ideas both in our minds and on the Post-Its® covering the walls. Yet, it wasn’t until we began to visualize and play that we were able to work through more complex issues of our idea such as:
- How was the concept different in each of our minds?
- How would implementation work in a real environment?
- What tools would be needed to implement the idea?
- How would the stakeholders interact with one another?
In this fashion, playing with Legos was much more than play; it became an essential communication, innovation and experimentation tool. This is not only my experience, but also one shared by fans of the Lego® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology.
Just as playing with Legos served as inspiration, exploring the words and experiences of others reminded me of the importance of theory and research to accompany my learning.
Katja Tschimmel’s paper “Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation” provided insight into the role of visualizing methods, such as playing with Legos, in building new perspectives that could otherwise not be realized through standard mental processes (Tschimmel, 2012).
Kamil Michlewski’s book Design Attitude gave me no new methodologies to test, however, it provided three major insights that are equally important to my development as a designer:
- This inherent need to prove my worth as a designer isn’t mine alone, it has a name: The professional project. In fact, the design field as a whole is in a stage where it “… strives to legitimize itself in the eyes of other professions, government bodies and the general public in order to achieve a certain social status.” (Michlewski 2015, 7.)
- The push for proven over innovative solutions is common. Michlewski explains it is “a direct consequence of consultants being billed on a daily rate and their subsequent need to optimize time spent on any assignment” (Michlewski 2015, 71). Considering my consulting background it is something I will remain keenly aware of and has inspired me to learn more about value-based pricing.
- As designers, we are not seeking a singular solution as if it is a rare gem waiting to be unearthed. Rather, we combine our own unique talents, the talents of our team, the insights of those we are designing for and the toolkit of our profession to create something entirely new.
In the end, I am left feeling inspired, reinforced in my career choice and determined to keep playing with Legos despite their misunderstood creative glory.
Service Innovation and Design MBA Student
Tschimmel, Katja 2012. Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona. http://www.academia.edu/1906407/Design_Thinking_as_an_effective_Toolkit_for_Innovation
Michlewski, Kamil 2015. Design Attitude. Farnham, Surrey: Gower.