Lessons in Business
We’ve been using design thinking methodologies, to help solve business problems, since I graduated in product design over 30 years ago. In fact, product designers have – to a great extent – led the design thinking movement, even if the discipline hasn’t always had the same name.
A significant part of good design is about understanding people. We use a number of tools and techniques to get closer to their needs and co-create solutions that make their lives better. This explains why many product designers have also gravitated towards service design.
However, as time has passed, non-designers have – quite rightly – started to pay attention to this human-centred approach to problem solving too.
Perhaps it’s because businesses increasingly need to innovate in such a fast-changing world with ever-more discerning customers. Or, their proposition may have started to lack any competitive advantage. It could even be unfit-for-purpose. In truth there are many reasons why we’re seeing other sectors and professionals seeking design thinking for their toolkit. But I want to see even more people harnessing this collaborative mindset. I want it to become more mainstream.
Part of the problem is that, in the eyes of many busy businesspeople, design thinking is still looked upon with a degree of cynicism – something that lacks any real substance or commercial validity even. But a growing number of case studies are evidencing the bottom line impact that this creative approach can have.
Some of the world’s leading management consultancies are absorbing specialist design thinking agencies to strengthen their offering. Government departments have used design thinking techniques to improve the transparency of the public services they offer, so that they become more user-focused. And on a more local level, many manufacturers in the North of England have deployed design thinking to overhaul their approach to product development, branding, communications and internal engagement. I know of one that experienced such a phenomenal pace of growth off the back of embracing these techniques, that they subsequently sold the company.
If I was to offer a single piece of advice to kickstart this approach, I would urge businesses to test and prototype products and services sooner, and more frequently – one of the core principle of design thinking is to ‘make, test and learn’. We need to remember how it felt to draw, design, play and explore, when we were fearless children. It’s not about turning people into designers, or even tackling an overtly design-related challenge. It’s about triggering organisational change using a human-centred approach to innovation.