Tag Archive | design thinking organization

Becoming a Design Thinking Organization: Sense Making through Empathy

Co-authored by Airine Kariuki and Saper Sahbaz

“There is only one valid purpose of a corporation: to create a customer” (Drucker, 2006). As called by some “the father of modern management”, Peter Drucker drew attention to customer-centricity 67 years ago, dividing the management practice into two camps: those who strive for customer value creation vs. value extraction. But today, it is clear who the winners are.

Figure 1: Market capitalization of value creators (Amazon, Apple) vs. value extractors (GE, and IBM) (Denning, 2021)

However, firms that strive for customer value creation face newer and newer challenges today. As Daniel Pink writes (in Brown, 2008): “Abundance has […] over-satisfied, the material needs of millions—boosting the significance of beauty and emotion and accelerating individuals’ search for meaning”. In response, truly customer-centric firms need to deliver not only products but experiences wrapped with both tangible and intangible value propositions (Brown, 2008). More, contemporary customers demand more and more complex experiences.

Building more complex experiences and delivering intangible value requires a deep understanding of users’ emotions, desires, aspirations, wants, needs, expectations, and experience (Kolko, 2015). What’s more, it requires interpreting the complexity of the context in which the users exist and interact. This is where Design Thinking comes to the rescue by providing the approach and the tools for “sense making” through “empathy” (Tschimmel, 2022; Kolko, 2015; Mootee, 2013; Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser, 2009).

In the real world, user problems don’t exist as problems but present themselves through problematic situations (Mootee, 2013). The task for the organization is then interpreting these problematic situations. Empathy provides us a way to relate to the user, understand the situation, and understand why certain experiences are meaningful to people (Kouprie & Sleeswijk Visser, 2009). It enables us to capture information that can’t be transcribed in quantitative means but in the form of stories—or as Koupre and Sleeswijk put it (ibid.): “[an] understanding that goes beyond knowledge”. It provides us the perspective to “frame” the users’ reality to define the problems in a way that users face them instead of what it “seems to be” for the firm (Dorst, 2011).

Figure 2: Researchers using gamification to create empathy with and between users (Kaario et al., 2009) – Image: Niemi (2017)

Only by such deep understanding of the user, the firms can exercise “thoughtful restraint” (Kolko, 2015) providing a simpler, streamlined, and authentic experience that goes beyond mere functionality, appealing also to emotions such as pleasure and satisfaction; eventually capturing a sustainable competitive edge in today’s market and business landscape.

Figure 3: Through “thoughtful restrain”, an Apple Macbook Air’s touchpad provides users a clear, simple, yet very effective way to interact with the computer whereas and HP notebook just throws in multiple features that do not relate to each other—resulting in a confusing and inefficient user experience.

Sense making through framing goes also beyond experience design. It enables organizations to make sense of complexity of any sort. It can be, for example, used to learn about a sudden shift in markets, value migration between industries, emerging behaviors associated with disruptive technologies, or the reason why a previously successful business model expired and needs a redesign (Mootee, 2013).

While Design Thinking provides the means to compete in a brand-new age, it requires a change in attitudes, world views, ways of working, and interacting. Being more than just mere tools and prescribed frameworks, the question for the future-looking organizations is whether or not they can achieve the cultural transformation that is required to become a Design Thinking organization (Mootee, 2013). But perhaps, the key to success probably lies in Design Thinking itself to achieve this cultural transformation.

Works Cited

Brown, T. (2008). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review.

Denning, S. (2021, May 2). Why Peter Drucker is the Albert Einstein of Management. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2021/05/02/why-peter-drucker-is-the-albert-einstein-of-management/?sh=7ffe1b145f8d

Dorst, K. (2011). The core of ‘design thinking’ and its application. Design Studies.

Drucker, P. (2006). The Practice of Management. Harper Business.

Kaario, P., Vaajakallio, K., Lehtinen, V., Kantola, V., & Kuikkaniemi, K. (2009). Someone Else’s Shoes – Using Role Playing Games in User-Centered Service Design. DeThinkingService ReThinking Design. Oslo.

Kolko, J. (2015). Design Thinking Comes of Age. Harvard Business Review.

Kouprie, M., & Sleeswijk Visser, F. (2009). A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life. Journal of Engineering Design.

Mootee, I. (2013). Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can’t Teach You at Business or Design School. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Niemi, R. (2017, July 3). Pöytäroolipelit ja hbtq-asiat ovat lähellä Sonja Kutinlahden sydäntä. Retrieved from Sveriges Radio: https://sverigesradio.se/artikel/6728579

Tschimmel, K. (2022). Creativity, Design adn Design Thinking – a human-centred ménage à trois for Innovation.