Design-Thinking is a life-style, not a tool or method…

How to understand possible mainstream point of views on design-thinking? The authors Pijl, Lokitz and Solomon noted that design-thinking has been growing in relevance due to the increasing speed of our surroundings and interactions of humans. Furthermore, according to Pijl the most important quality in business was knowledge that has now been surpassed by the ability to search for and find opportunities. (Pijl, Lokitz, & Solomon, 2016) The author Verganti maybe makes the most elegant explanation by stating that design is making sense of things. He suggests that all creative professions that modify their environment and focus on how things should be – and not with how they are – are design focused. This understanding has led for business to understand the importance of design-thinking roles inside organizations. Verganti further comments that business schools have since being trying to develop students analytical skills but overlooked fostering creativity skills. (Verganti, 2009) 

The authors Pijl et all provide an insight into their perspective of design-thinking. The authors argue that design doesn’t require an outcome, but rather design stands for the journey of findings, ideas options and their validation. Their research on big organizations such as 3M, Lufthansa, SAP and others provided insight that the essence of preparation for innovation are the talents that can utilize design tools and other human-centered tools. They further point out that a design is for people inside and outside of an organization, so the human has to be at the center of a design. Pijl et all argue that understanding the customer – not assuming – is most important followed by an understanding of its context and its business model. For them these three elements lead to a successful design. The foundation for discovery and innovation lies in asking design-minded questions, such as “why” and “what if”. (Pijl et al., 2016) 

The author Polaine, who wrote a book on service-design, argues that design-thinking is the creative thought process that comes before implementation. Polaine states that service-design is about doing design and implementation. Service design enables design-thinkers to visualize abstract ideas. Polaine elaborates that service design is all about designing with people and it could be interpreted that design thinking according to Polaine is limited to designing for people. (Polaine, 2013)

Osterwalder in contrast considers elaborating on design-thinking skills such as being able to explore alternatives before choosing and refining a certain direction. Design-thinkers are according to Osterwalder comfortable with non-linear approaches and accept constant changing values and their creation. (Osterwalder, Pigneur, Bernarda, & Smith, 2014) 

Design-thinkers profile

Brown provides with 5 points that distinguish a design-thinkers profile:

  • to be empathetic and see the world from different point of views
  • an integrative thinker that understand the deeper connections and constructions of existing situations and alternative options.
  • an optimist that believes any potential solution is better than the existing alternative.
  • to be experimental and not dwell on tweaks but questioning the status quo which lead to entirely new directions
  • a collaborator who is able to work in heterogenous teams and has experience in many diverse areas

Brown concludes that in order to find market opportunities or create customer value, design-thinkers use skills of a creative person to match people’s needs with technically feasibility and business viability. Brown provides Edison the inventor as an example for a design-thinker, who observed what people wanted, needed and disliked and understood how products were made, packaged and sold. Brown sees a clear shift from industrial manufacturing to a service oriented market, where the need for design-thinking becomes more crucial in a human oriented and human centered market. (Brown, 2008) 

The design thinker Greger proposes in his article that design-thinkers not only use classical inductive and deductive thinking skills but also possess the ability to think abductively or apply lateral thinking. He justifies this by stating that designers or consultants can be distant to a situation or an organization and thus are anticipated to ask blunt questions such as “why” or “how come?” These questions allow designers to draw on parallel scenarios to create new thoughts in contrast to managers that try to optimize their businesses. Greger concludes that when combining these two disciplines true success can be reached. Greger coins the term business-design, a symbiosis of a manager and designer. (rudolf greger, n.d.)

No method fits them all

I sympathies with Virganti’s explanation on design. Design-thinking is thinking about a design instead of thinking about how to design or how to be creative. Thus, to me design-thinking is a state-of-mind, a character or even a personality trait. Imagining and creating a design how something can work is to me the creative process which is part of design-thinking or even service design. Many different methods exist in how to be creative and many tools to be creative with. But not having the aptitude to work with these tools will not deliver desired results.

Thus, I disagree with Pijl et all who found in their research findings that the tools and methods are the most important elements of design-thinking. All books cited and in particular the book by Polain states that there is no singular process, method or tool that can be applied in any given situation. These tools and methods provide suggestions in how potentially design-thinking can be funneled and streamlined. These tools can provide guidance and help not to overlook any eventualities or gaps essential in developing designs for human-centric products, services and solutions. Finally, I would conclude that, because there is no “one solution that fits them all” the individual experience of a design-thinker will have a great impact on the quality of a design. 

References & Literature:

Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard Business Review86(6), 84.

Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y., Bernarda, G., & Smith, A. (2014). Value proposition design: How to create products and services customers want. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Pijl, P. van der, Lokitz, J., & Solomon, L. K. (2016). Design a better business: New tools, skills and mindset for strategy and innovation. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.

Polaine, A. (2013). Service design: From insight to implementation. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media.

Rudolf Greger. (n.d.). Die wahrheit über designthinking R2.

Verganti, R. (2009). Design-driven innovation: Changing the rules of competition by radically innovating what things mean. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Press.