design thinking: developing innovation

Innovation has been recognized as survival strategy in today’s business climate. In the newest issue of Business Week magazine, an excerpt from a book by the CEO of the design firm IDEO, points out that the need to innovate is nothing new—but how to accomplish it, is new—design thinking. When I started my design business nearly 30 years ago we didn’t talk about design thinking. (In fact, we didn’t talk about much of anything outside of the arcane methods that were required to get something created and printed at the time.) Since then, the influence of design in the business world has grown dramatically.

The methodologies of the designer: brainstorming, mock-ups, user observations, storytelling and scenario building are all useful in building innovation. Tim Brown of IDEO says it is time for this type of thinking—design thinking—to migrate outward and upward into the highest levels of corporate leadership. Business leaders seeking innovation need to adopt the methods of the designer, just as designers are broadening their scope from just creating “things”, to the shaping of services, experiences and organizations.

Designers typically approach problem-solving somewhat differently. They’re more intuitive and emotional, and less logical and analytical. Instead of going A > B > C > D, designers may start at Q > D > K and end up at P. The logical thinker hires market researchers to describe how the world is; design thinking describes how the world could be.

David Butler, Coca-Cola’s vice president of global design, applies design thinking way beyond the design of Coke’s brand. “I love big, giant, enormous systems, no matter what they are,” he says. “In the past, design had been focused on straight forward problems: Come up with a drinking vessel, say. But now it was being asked so solve multipronged problems: How do we get clean drinking water? We’re moving from linear problems to wicked problems.”

Brown concludes by saying, “The design thinkers I have described here are not minimalist, esoteric members of an elite priesthood. They are creative innovators who can bridge the chasm between thinking and doing because they are passionately committed.”