Since about 2004, the concept of “design thinking” as a problem-solving tool has been embraced—and in some cases rejected—by the business world.

  • Both Stanford and the Rotman School of Management offer Design Thinking courses in their business programs.
  • In 2009, Business Week published a list of “promising programs from design and business schools from around the world” that could “best educate the design thinkers and innovators of the future”.
  • Fast Company has covered design thinking with fervour since 2008, and this year declared it “a failed experiment”, proposing instead what Bruce Nussbaum calls “Creative Intelligence”.
  • Just last month, 60 Minutes did a feature story on design thinking with IDEO founder, David Kelley. (Take 12 minutes to watch it – it’s worth it!)

Wherever the concept of design thinking may stand in business media, the practice of design is delivering real value to businesses every day. In this series of articles, we’ll focus on how design can be a strategic driver for business, including examples of how it does play that role.

Design as a Strategic Driver of Business (Part 1 of 5): Design Enhances Logic

Creative people don’t always do a good job of communicating to the business; but the business often misses important opportunities that thinking creatively can uncover. Although both business and design involve problem-solving, they have traditionally approached it using different kinds of logic.

As Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Business, University of Toronto, pointed out in 2006, traditional approaches to teaching (and conducting) business focus on developing rational inductive and deductive logic. That is:

  • Solutions that already exist: we can generalize solutions to problems based on what exists or what has existed before (inductive logic).
  • Narrowing down existing choices: given a range of proposed options, logic can be used to reduce the choices to the one that is best (deductive logic).
Problem-solving infographic

Designers use a third mode of logic to solve problems, called abductive reasoning, or expansive thinking. At Pivot Design Group, we call this Informed Design. It begins with an assumption that nothing is known (i.e. it does not begin with past, present, or proposed solutions). By creating space and permission to generate new ideas, it can dramatically improve the process of finding solutions to business problems.

Unconstrained by existing assumptions, empirical reasoning, political agendas, or any particular parameters, abductive reasoning expands the range of potential solutions to explore. Only once the expansion has occurred is deduction applied to short-list the better options given the context and constraints of the problem. Designers then test the shortlisted solutions to gather feedback, and use inductive logic to iterate and ultimately arrive at an ideal solution.

The Cycle of Design Thinking


Case in Point

When KPMG wanted to understand why its brand was not fully engaging the target “C-Suite” audience, Pivot Design Group leveraged expansive thinking through Design Research. Our re-designed communication strategy led to numerous enhancements to KPMG’s communication practices that pull audiences to engage with KMPG thought leadership. Read the story here >>


In the next article, we’ll focus on how design improves collaboration in business.

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