Today we experience a transformation from mouse driven interaction towards touch panel interfaces. Smart and always (inter)connected touch devices are becoming pervasive in our daily life, business and private, including dishwashers, washing machines or fridges. Almost 20 years ago a comparable revolution took place when computers became personal and useable for the masses through the evolution of a pointing device – the computer mouse.
This electronic rodent, at about the size of a rat, revolutionized our way of interaction with personal computers at the beginning of the 80s. Most famous and known driver of this process was Apple Computers with their Macintosh 128K called Lisa. Otherwise to common presumption the computer mouse was neither invented nor developed by Apple Computers. But without any doubts a company today named Ideo[i] – hired by Apple Computers and provided with the goal bringing this device to everyone – delivered the innovation ingredients for mass success.
What were these secret ingredients? Design Thinking was the management method applied for innovation of the computer mouse. Being characterized by a user centric approach Design Thinking starts at understanding through direct observation, of what people want and need in their lives, what they like or dislike. Design Thinking understands itself as innovating the business, not just for products or services, but as well business strategy and market opportunities.
The following article will provide an insight on the main ingredients and key benefits of the Design Thinking innovation process, which lead to an epidemic of electronic rodents raging till today.
Innovation Drill Process
Design Thinking was developed by David Kelly, Terry Winograd and Larry Leifer at Standford University and is far beyond classic disciplines of creation, forming and developing products. It is a discipline to match people´s needs with, what is technologically feasible, and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity. Therefore Design Thinking is in strong connection with change management and organizational development.
In strong contrast to a classic technology centered approach Design Thinking is focusing on and starting at the future user needs, requirements and based on an intense interaction loop with them. The process starts with understanding through direct observation, of what people want and need in their lives, what they like or dislike about the way particular products and services are made, packed, delivered, marketed, sold and supported and going far beyond physical products or services. Observing user process flow and interaction, combined with interviewing, builds the basic analysis method – characterized by the goal to win user intimacy.
In the process of Define Point of View outcomes and insights of understanding and observation narrowed down to an archetype user and needs building the basis for the following process.
Figure 1: The Design Thinking Process
The step Ideation, which is core, heart and soul of the entire flow in which innovation and creativity takes place. Using a wide range of different (creativity) methods, specific working culture and personal mindset, new ideas, solution approaches concepts are developed and visualized in team.
Figure 2: Building and Using Knowledge
Creative work can be distinguished in two ways, finders and makers. Finders work through the process of discovery, driven by understand and explain. In contrast makers are driven by synthesis, combing and transferring between different disciplines of knowledge. The combination of both enables thinking outside the box and takes place in the phases of ideation and prototyping.
Deploying ideas and concepts fast into prototypes is the second part of the core, heart and soul of Design Thinking. Prototypes should command only as much time, effort and investment as are needed to generate useful feed and evolve the idea. The goal of prototypes is not to “finish” as much more to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the idea to identify new directions.
Figure 3: The cycle of Design Thinking
Design Thinking is a system of spaces than rather a predefined series of orderly steps. The spaces are demarcate different sorts of related activities that together form the continuum of innovation:
Circumstances that motivate to search for solution
- Ideation & Prototyping
Process of generating, developing and testing ideas
Charting a path to market
Project loopbacks take place through these spaces, particularly the first two. Design Thinking must be understood as flow from a user need through understanding, observation, analysis, ideation and fast prototyping to testing with the user. It is not a single path process as much more an iterating cycle and understood as a synthetic process with a strong real-world matter.
- Begin at the beginning
Involve design thinkers at the very start of the innovation process before any direction has been set.
- Take a human-centered approach
Innovation should factor human behavior, needs and preferences
- Try early and often
Rapid experimentation, prototyping and measure progress by average time to first prototype or number of customer exposed to prototypes
- Seek outside help
Expand the innovation ecosystem and co-create with customers and consumers.
Besides early delivery of ideas into prototypes a strong common working culture and acting in multi-disciplinary teams allows combining solution feasibility with economic realization. Common working culture is a strong asset and therefore Design Thinking provides a set of eleven rules:
- Stay focused on topic One conversation at a time
- Encourage wild ideas Defer judgment
- Be visual Go for quantity
- Build on the ideas of others Fail early and often
- Think user centric Work multi-disciplinary
- Teach teams with teams
Alongside these necessary setup for a working culture environment the designers themselves also need a well-fitting personal profile. Even the myth of creative genius is resilient being such is not a requirement.
Designers are characterized by empathy, integrative thinking, optimism, experimentalism and strong collaboration skills: Designers have to continually consider how, what is being created, will respond to human needs. They should also consider environmental interests at a level with human interests as primary constraints for the design process.
The ability to visualize and working visually helps designers to look at different/multiple solutions of a problem and keep the big picture of the problem in mind, while focusing on its specifics. Caving a systemic vision helps designers to treat problems as system problems with opportunities for systemic solutions involving different procedures and concepts to create a holistic solution.
As designers search competing alternatives, before moving to choice or decision making, they try to find ways to come up with new configurations. This process leads to solutions that avoid decisions and combines best possible choices.
As communication in team is essential designers should be able to verbally explain their creative process. Designers need interpersonal skills that allow them to communicate across disciplines and work with other people.
In overall requirements for designers address well educated and experienced employees. No wonder recruitment process for designers focus on social competences and team fit higher than professional knowledge and experience.
Finally management has to embrace uncertainty as learning when stepping away from the familiar and accepting that uncertainty inevitably accompany new experiences. Innovation means moving into uncertainty as Ken Robinson states “To come up with something original you have to be prepared to be wrong.”
Benefits of Design Thinking
The Design Thinking flow always focuses on the customer or consumer and leads to a very strong orientation on their needs. So the outcome (product, service, organizational change …) is shaped through strong interaction with the future user. This strong human centered approach improves chances for fulfilling users’ needs reasonably.
In contrast to other innovation management concepts Design Thinking sees the social psychology of creativity as a key part for success and providing tool- and mindset necessary for unleashing creativity within a group or organization.
Amabile developed a creativity process and component framework focusing on the social and psychological personal and interpersonal aspects. Wylant points out the strong similarities to the Design Thinking flow. Throughout their academic work it became visible, that Design Thinking is a, to socialization scaled, version. Therefore Design Thinking is able to address the social and psychological aspects of the creativity process and conveying innovation.
Figure 4: Creativity Process
Focusing on the future users today requires not just looking on a product or service. Today’s buying decisions are influenced by the whole business model, company strategy and corporate culture. Design Thinking means innovating the business, not just a product or service and therefore includes also aspects of change management and organizational development.
Last but not least Design Thinking provides a new decision model to management. Managers reason their decisions mainly from a deductive (general to specific) or inductive approach (from specific to general). Design Thinking delivers abductive reasoning to management and the understanding no new idea could be proved deductively or inductively using past data or experience. Designers live in a world of abductive reasoning, use their sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.
Will design thinking save us?
Design Thinking is often described as the best way to be creative and innovative. In the field of academic research the question towards “What is Design Thinking?” is not answered by a unique meaning as various discourses exist. So when trying to picture out the benefits and challenges of Design Thinking a widespread range of positions and considerations can be unveiled. But overall the following core concerns on Design Thinking can be summarized.
As in many domains of management organizational change and development is a complex field. Organizations are not invented, there are not sketched or designed from scratch. Companies have organizations, they exist already and have human characteristics. Organizations have to be developed using Change Management and Organizational Development.
Design Thinking does not solve the challenges related to “Structure follows Strategy?” and all the impacts and dependencies implied with this question. Human mind is characterized by antagonism and anxiety, when organizational change comes to them. Besides a powerful innovation process Design Thinking delivers an additional decision reasoning approach for management, but does not deliver a new concept for managing and deploying organizational development and change to an organization.
Strongly connected with organizational change is overcoming cultural barriers. Most companies are driven by financial planning, rewards systems and constraints are recognized as enemies. In contrast value orientated cultures see constraints as opportunities.
Shareholders expect financial and not business value return for their investment. So being in a market environment, characterized by from ownership detached management, rewarded for revenues, innovation, focusing on business value creation, has the challenge to overcome pure financial decision finding. Design Thinking does not provide a solution towards this management challenge.
The term Design Thinking is misleading as it is characterized by interdisciplinary and synthetic process. Therefore the name should be seen as a marketing term. Design Thinking is a powerful management method for enabling business innovation having a strong consumer and customer orientation and having in mind what a business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.
Out of the boxing thinking – combining creativity approaches of finders and makers – allows to deliver innovation in a work environment characterized by empathy, integrative thinking, optimism, experimentalism and intense collaboration. The iterative circle of understand, observe, define point of view, ideation, prototype with tight user feedback ensures a concentrated innovation flow reflecting the psychological and social aspects of creativity. In addition Design Thinking helps to build better teams as success is not founded on the lone-genius myth of innovation and in team communication and exchange are central.
Design Thinking alone will not save the business world as the concept lacks in topics of change management and team dynamics, especially from the view of academic research. And also in practical life Design Thinking is not able to provide a solution any situation as the required work culture environment cannot be established by just a fingertip.
Finally Design Thinking provides innovative ideas and abductive reasoning for management decisions beyond often practiced deductive or inductive argumentation and therefore is an important concept for today’s management problems, characterized by no longer from general or specific predictable future development. Design Thinking is a way of thinking.
Table of References
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Beckman, S., & Barry, M. (2007, Volume 50/1). Innovation as a Learning Process: Embedding Design Thinking. CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW, pp. 25-56.
Benson, J., & Dresdow, S. (2014, Volume 38 (3)). Design Thinking: A freah approach for transformative assessment practice. Journal of Management Education, pp. 436-461.
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Ideo. (2014, 10 16). Mouse for Apple. Retrieved from First production mouse for Lisa and Macintosh: http://www.ideo.com/work/mouse-for-apple/
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 By 2008 the manufacturer Logitech has sold over one billion computer mouse.
 Computer Mouse based on an invention of Douglas C. Engelhart and William English at the Augmentation Research Center and further development of Xerox PARC in 1973.
 S. Weinberg (2012, p. 248).
 S. Brown (2008, p. 86).
 S. Weinberg (2012, p. 248).
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 S. Wylant, Spring (2008, p. 10).
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 Focus on thinking about what could be possible. Abductive reasoning yields the kind of daily decision making that does its best with the information at hand, which is often incomplete. The abductive process can be creative, intuitive, and even revolutionary. S. Benson & Dresdow (2014, p. 456).
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 S. Figure 1 in Dunne & Roger (2006, p. 518).
 S. Brown (2008, pp. 87-88).
 S. Brown (2008, p. 88) and Brown (2009, pp. 15)
 S. Brown (2008, p. 88).
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 S. Johannson-Sköldberg, Woodilla, & Cetinkaya (2013, p. 129).
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 S. Brown (2008, p. 87).
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 Considering the idea of the SECI Model developed by Ikujiro Nonaka und Hirotaka Takeuchi.
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 Comprehensive version of Figure 4.2. Componential framework of creativity in (Amabile, 1996, p. 94).
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 S. Liedtka (2014, p. 44).
 S. Roger (2012, p. 14).
[i] The company was called Hovey-Kelly Design until 1999.