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The second in a series of posts on the topic of Design Thinking and its impact on business innovation. This post looks into the dynamics of innovation and assesses Design Thinking as a methodology for optimizing innovation as a strategy for gaining a  competitive edge in design-led businesses.

Innovation – and the pressure to be innovative – is all around us.

That’s because entrepreneurs and enterprises of persuasions know that to innovate is to lead, it is the way to stay ahead of the market and be on your game. The simple truth is that the status quo never stays the same for very long and staying in business demands that you constantly refresh and reinvent yourself if you’re going to stay relevant and attractive to customers. 

Simply put, innovation is the development of new services or products, or new and improved versions of existing ones that will delight customers in such a way to protect or enhance the fundamentals of a business or better still, advantageously disrupt its current market position.  The key word here is “development,” because it’s not about coming up with a game-changing idea, it’s being able to develop it, nurture it, bring it to market and carve out a substantial customer base because of it.

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas,” computing pioneer Howard Aiken once said. Great innovators aren’t just people with ideas. They’re also in it for the long haul and the stamina to see them through to the end and, just maybe, have a shot at changing the world.

Unlocking creativity

Since it was popularized in the late 1960s, Design Thinking has grown into a dominant design approach because it helps people in business to see new opportunities and live with uncertainty, which are central to developing innovation and achieving accelerated growth.  It’s a profoundly human-centric, multidisciplinary methodology that works with non-creatives who can unearth their buried creativity by triggering their positive emotions and discovering their intrinsic motivation. Design Thinking’s human-centred investigative techniques have resulted in meaningful solutions to problems that have pushed the boundaries of innovation across the business spectrum.

Design Thinking is tailored to developing innovation, a methodical problem-solving approach for identifying customer dissatisfaction and building innovative solutions through the process of iteration.  In the Design Thinking scheme, once desirability is validated, business viability and technical feasibility are addressed, making it a true collaborative effort for experience designers, social scientists, engineers and businesspeople.  

The process is an effective framework for creating solutions. It revolves around developing a deep understanding of users, the people for whom the products and services are being designed.  We show empathy for the target user through a line of questioning that gets right to the heart of the problem, the assumptions behind it and the implications that it suggests.  User-centric to the core, Design Thinking puts users at the centre of a process that aims to foster practical and logical innovation through a solutions-based mindset. A focus on possible solutions and what needs to happen to solve the problem. 

Design Thinking still embodies the same principles that were first articulated in Herbert Simon’s The Sciences of the Artificial back in in 1969, which articulates a five-phase model as follows:

  • Empathize – focus on and understand the user. Gather a vast amount of information on their lives and what you can do to help them enjoy life even more;
  • Define – taking aim at the real problem your design is attempting to solve. Define the issue based on your user research, always keep the user front and centre;
  • Ideate –  come up with solutions, all the ways that your design could make a difference for its users.  Brainstorming as many ideas as possible from everyone on the team without judgment, and then narrow down the list to the concepts worth pursuing;
  • Prototype – turn the winning concepts into something tangible, convert surviving ideas into  prototypes; and
  • Testing – put your prototype to the test for validation. Have real users validate the key reasoning that underlies the design.  Double check the prototype and find ways to improve on it. 

 It’s important to remember that the five phases are not sequential, not in a specific order. They can happen in parallel and be repeated iteratively. Design Thinking is not linear and experience designers are not expected to go about their work in a straight line, from stage to stage. It’s more like a reference map that you can consult when you need some guidance on your creative direction.  

Building value

Design Thinking gives experience designers the freedom to develop new ways of thinking about their users, understanding how they connect with products and fathom the conditions in which they operate. It is their opportunity to ask probing questions and challenge assumptions, allowing them to dig a little deeper with their subjects for the right answers. And, in so doing, they can imagine new ways to delight their users by making products, services and designs that much better.

 

— Ian Chalmers, Principal and Design Director

 

Check out the first article in this series — Thinking Like a Designer – Design Thinking and the Pursuit of Innovation

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