The Origins of Design Thinking

6 min read

Design thinking is created not only because Tim Brown coined the word that became a buzzword. There's a logical reason to it.

Design thinking is created because big corporation lack the ability to be creative and on extreme cases, aren't able to create new products and services that meet unmet needs of their customers.

Because of 20th century education system that fostered dominant logic and disregard creativity, people grew up with an overpowered mindset and skill-set of managing value. Hence, defines the corporations today that are run by boomers and Gen X.

Because how they are bred, a majority of corporations operate with analytical thinking where they are constantly being disrupted by changing trends and consumer values rendering their business obsolete. Think of Kodak’s film camera business. This happens because organizations lack value creation capability that would allow them to respond in time.

To respond to external change is to innovate. To innovate, businesses must have the capacity to design. To design they need to fuse design internally within the organization to create a culture that fosters creative thinking and actions with design methods and tools designers use.

Pioneers like Tim Brown and Roger Martin have spearheaded the shifting role of design in business from noun to verb, where design can be used as a differentiator to respond to changing trends and consumer behaviours, while gaining competitive advantage that ultimately impacts bottom-line and drives business growth. Businesses are beginning to realize the necessity of design as a value creation capability to complement its existing value management capability. 

In its purest context, value creation typically comes from designers because they are naturally inclined in creative thinking, trained in the methods and tools to produce new values. However, designers seem to be able to produce new values in ambiguity where there was never a concrete set of predictable process. This is a big problem for organizations because executives initially cannot comprehend the nature of creatives.

Designer's creative process and mindset are too ambiguous, messy and unpredictable for businesses to follow and embed as part of their organizational process. This is because businesses seek to replicate the creative outcome from design process.

Hence, the desire to synthesize design process into a step-by-step process. Thus, design thinking as process is born. However, the risk of having a defined process that become standardized may lead to a predictable and less creative outcome.

Design thinking is now known as a creative-problem solving approach designers use to create new values that are different and create positive impact. In essence design thinking has gain popularity as the approach to innovate.

When design thinking is applied to business by making creativity logical, the results are tremendous. Companies that have successfully implemented design thinking have seen their bottom-line increases with a healthy growth rate.

As design thinking gained global traction, so has the hype and illusion. People jump on the bandwagon without really knowing what design thinking is, how it works, and why it’s needed in the first place.

Even worse, when they begin to call themselves “Design Thinkers” after learning about the standard methods and tools of design thinking process. Many claim that they can implement design thinking in organizations to achieve an outcome they do not truly understand or a misdirected outcome that disappoints businesses.

Thus, design thinking is treated as a step-by-step process trained by trainers or strategists who cannot design, but advise companies on design merely because they have taken short training courses trained by other trainers.

This is all too common especially in developing nations where many design thinking engagements are run through one-off workshops which usually ends at prototyping with roleplay or pitching session, without regards on following through to execute ideas created.

Because of these illusion, misdirection and one-off engagements the value of design becomes diluted, and ROI of design thinking can't be realized. This may lead to society at large perceiving design as a failure, which I address 13 reasons on why design thinking will fail if these problems are not solved here.

They will not understand because they do not realize that with thinking, the act of designing is necessary too. The art of craftsmanship, idealism and perfectionism are the traits that define such creatives. Guess who possess these traits that has brought his company to cultish success? Steve Jobs and his Apple.

All in all, design thinking has become a buzzword with certain expectations and assumptions. If design thinking is used as an organizational approach to creativity, it should not be different and separate from logic - as creativity is the ability to make sense of new logic by connecting the unconnected.

This article is published at Wired.