Design Thinking + 1

If you are not a designer and you don't have any knowledge of what “design thinking” is in problem solving and business methodologies, what do you imagine the term means?

A. It’s trying to make things “look good”.

B. It’s being more creative.

C. It’s to think and plan visually, to use sketches.

D. I have no idea.

That’s probably what the average businessman or administrator would think (since I’ve asked)... and it’s far from the real meaning of the term and how it can be used to benefit a company and its innovations.

Many times the term “design” is only related to graphic design in cultures where this discipline is not as valued and encouraged as it should be. At least for what I’ve experienced in Latin America, when a company needs a designer it’s because they need a logo, poster, company sign, brochure, business card or a web page. I’ve never heard a Latin American business owner saying something like, “I need a designer to create new service experiences for our clients”… and they should! Companies in Mexico post jobs that should be for Industrial Designers, asking for Product Engineers and seeking people who have studied manufacture or mechanics. People often ask me "what is Industrial Design?" Besides, design in general is not considered as an investment, it’s a cost. Desginers are seen as artistic creatives and not exactly focused in business and profits.

My B.S. in Industrial Design helped me to be able to work as a business consultant for my entire professional life, understanding and communicating effectively with different departments, from Marketing to Production, and working for a wide variety of clients, from commerce to banks. I sometimes feel as a “translator” between areas in order to achieve results through synergy. It has also helped me to develop creative ideas or to open up to other’s ideas, without discarding them too early in the process, and most importantly, to think as the costumers, to have empathy in order to synthesize and satisfy their needs.

“Design Thinking”, as a problem solving approach and business methodology, is exactly that: being able to first diverge in different options, being creative, thinking differently, breaking conventional ideas or paradigms , and THEN being able to converge the new ideas into a real effective solution that added new forms of value. It differs from analytical thinking since you don’t logically “improve” upon a given idea, creating most of the time incremental innovations; it’s starting from the basics, almost ignorant of the subject, without pre-conceived paradigms, allowing radical innovations. “Design Thinking” also becomes important in our times since it includes researching and detecting real human (and consumer) needs and taking them into consideration throughout the entire process as a main focus (User Centered Design ) even though it could imply important product or process changes and flexibility.

Some bibliographies state that the stages for “Design Thinking” are: define, research, ideate, prototype, choose, implement, and learn. But I don’t like thinking about “stages” since we go back to an algorithmic way of thinking that breaks the whole point. I prefer to define Design Thinking as IDEOS' Tim Brown does (1),as a series of activities that create products and services that are:

- Desirable (people needs)

- Feasible (technologically)

- Viable (business)

Part of my job as a consultant in ChromaticWorks is to positively impact my client’s profits through Design Thinking applied to creating new products, services and process.

There is one element, not considered by Tim Brown (or considered inside Desirability without special mention), that I think would be important as a separate role in Design Thinking. Designers, as the natural creative employees inside multidisciplinary teams, are often the ones pushing far-out ideas to be adopted by the company. Many times I’ve seen how production engineers are so worried about productivity, quality and time metrics that they are the first ones to resist any radical change. Project managers are also always concerned for out-of-the-budget investments or uncontrolled resource needs. If designers are the ugly-duckling of business stability, this gives designers a very important role for new business’ needs in a changing environment i.e. SUSTAINABILITY. Although being “greener” is a practice every single job position in the company must embrace, designers should be the first ones fighting for new products and services to take environmental and social concerns into consideration.

In small or medium size companies in Latin America that do not have a department in charge of environmental or social issues and where productivity and efficiency is valued higher than innovation and long term results, someone has to take the lead on sustainability, especially if it involves massive production as manufacturers. Being sustainable could go against what people or costumers understands as needed, not affecting desirability; against the company’s actual technology, making it less feasible; and against an un-planned investment, making it less viable. That’s why I would add sustainability as a separate and vital element inside our role as designers.

“Design Thinking + 1”: desirable, feasible, viable AND sustainable. This is a graph I used for ChromaticWorks where I reflect my poing of view of Design Thinking in Innovation Management:

I recommend watching Tim Brown's video following the next link:

(1) TED Talks: Tim Brown urges designers to think big

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