We’re not talking pixels or picas; we’re talking process.
I suppose tough economic times often divide people into two camps: those who want to play it safe and follow the straight and narrow road, and those who see crisis as a time for ideation and innovation.
A methodology for idea-generating, design thinking characterizes the latter group (whether they’re cognizant of it or not). And whether it’s your job hunt, your business strategy, or global warming you want to change, shifting your process—or your entire organization’s—towards design thinking is a means of facilitating change and discovering new ideas.
Not a Degree, a Methodology
David Kelley, founder and chairman of IDEO and the man who coined the term “design thinking,” describes design thinkers as people who have “this creative confidence that, when given a difficult problem, we have a methodology that enables us to come up with a solution that nobody has before.”
Accordingly, the implications of design thinking aren’t contained in the arena of aesthetics alone. Design thinking applies to marketing and sales, philanthropy, conservation efforts, education, business, and everything in between.
Some Defining Characteristics of Design Thinking
Some people think creativity is purely a gift, a moment of divine inspiration. The notion of design thinking, however, implies that creativity and innovation can be fostered through a process, and as Linda Tischler says in her article on David Kelley, it’s a process not unlike the scientific method.
So what are some characteristics of design thinking, and how can it be applied to your creative vision, business strategy, or organizational processes?
Observation and Redefining the Problem
For one, design thinking isn’t about picking the best lemon out of the bunch and then squeezing it dry. Focusing on true innovation—not just optimization—requires stepping back, restating problems, and allowing some incubation time in the articulation of the problem. Observation is often tied in to this phase as well; problems or processes can’t be improved when the underlying issue has been misidentified.
Divergent Thinking and Lateral Movement
Perhaps design thinking isn’t embraced in more corporations because of the cognitive dissonance it instills; after all, divergent thinking is valued more than convergent thinking in a design mindset, and this can feel like dangerously unknown territory to businesses or clients. The ability to look at seemingly disparate elements, to move laterally, inspires more innovation than taking a linear path. Kelley emphasizes the need for “broad,” not just “deep” thinking.
Tim Brown, IDEO’s CEO, adds empathy to the list of innovation-inspiring characteristics. According to Brown, “You can’t just stand in your own shoes; you’ve got to be able to stand in the shoes of others. Empathy allows you to have original insights about the world. It also enables you to build better teams.”
Prototyping (and Going Back to the Drawing Board)
Related to empathy is also the importance of prototyping. But Brown, Kelley and IDEO don’t approach a prototype merely as a reflection of what a finished product or process will be; instead, it’s a means of eliciting more feedback. In Brown’s words, “we build to think.”
Finally, another crucial component of design thinking is the willingness to keep rethinking, redesigning, reanalyzing. Again, design thinking epitomizes a process, not a final product.
Investing in New Ideas
Whether you’re crafting an ad campaign, designing an eco-friendly office building, creating an employee motivation program, or streamlining processes within your company to improve your bottom line, design thinking can drive change, energize ideas, and engender innovation on a small and large scale.
And best of all, design thinking isn’t just for designers.
Hungry for more on design thinking?
Watch BusinessWeek’s Five Questions for Tim Brown
Ideo’s David Kelley on "Design Thinking"
Strategy by Design (by Tim Brown)
The Power of Design
School of Bright Ideas