Thinking like a designer can transform the way you develop products, services, processes and even strategy, according to Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. But what is design thinking? This topic was explored by 70 people in a workshop hosted by PIEp, a Swedish academia-based nationwide initiative to increase innovation capability in organizations.

The concept of design in the traditional sense is often something that is added on at a later stage. Most of us are very familiar with the working routine of asking the designer to make an already developed idea even more attractive to consumers or companies, by applying an attractive design.

The concept of Design Thinking however, is something completely different. Quoting Tim Brown:

Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.

Some core ingredients in the design thinking process are: multidisciplinary teams working together and trying to identify and understand the core of the problem that needs to be solved. The way of working is not linear, it’s an iterative process, where you learn together from each iterative step. According to Tim Brown, the design process is best described as a system of spaces rather than a series of orderly steps. The methodology is divided into three phases: inspiration, ideation and implementation.

Solving problems using classical tools of design

Dario Buzzini, design director with Ideo, explains it like this:

– It’s an approach to challenges, to solving problems, using the classical tools of design. And it can be used by anybody. When you use it in an innovation management context I would say that it is both a way of framing the challenge and a way of creating the solution. You can also say that it’s a way of taking ideas out of people’s heads as soon as possible and future proof them.

– We start by observing to really get a deep understanding of what the core of the problem is. In the next phase we work with rapid prototyping and testing with the users, all the time improving the solution and keeping the user’s needs in focus.

Mats Arturson, Director of continuous improvement & innovation at St. Jude Medical was one of the participants in the workshop that was led by Dario Buzzini.

– First of all I think the presentation was very good because Dario managed to describe the methodology in an easy-to-grasp and straight forward way. And I was very impressed by some of the examples he presented to us – how you can come up with a brilliant new product by simply observing customer behavior and then prototyping, in this case the improved Spanish ATM (automatic teller machine).

Watch the movie about the automated teller machine developed by a bank for its customers.

– I also enjoyed the workshop and I think it showed us, in a condensed and simple way, how you can work with design thinking. In my team we had a very diverse mix of people with regard to age, gender and experiences. Despite the short time allowed we were able to come up with lots of good ideas and also do some prototyping and tell a selling story about it. In many companies there is a risk of making your solutions too much about technology. I think that through the use of design thinking, you bring an added value and it contributes to better solutions.

“Good tool to increase customer insights”

Hasse Johansson, chairman of PIEp and formerly head of R&D at Scania, the global provider of heavy trucks, buses, engines and services, was also inspired by the workshop.

– Our group came up with a lot of different ideas and it became very clear in how many different ways different people interpret things. Still we were able to quite quickly reach a conclusion about a suggested solution. For me design thinking seems like a very good tool to increase your customer insights and finding out what their real needs actually are in order to come up with the best possible solution. I think it’s particularly useful when working with product innovation.

When Dario and his team work with clients they often try to look at the extreme users to get inspiration.

– We look for the extreme users, not because we target them, but because you can see interesting patterns that can inspire us.

Getting inspiration from F1

IDEO also looks for analogous experiences as inspiration for designers. As an example Dario mentions a Formula 1 racing team. When you look at all the persons involved in, for example changing the tires during pit stop in aF1 race, and do it in a few seconds, you understand that they know exactly what they are doing.

– That’s probably the best example of team efficiency. We studied them to get inspiration for a project involving teamwork in hospitals. One outcome of this was that we learned more about what happens when you enable people in certain roles; we could start work with new roles and dynamics to increase team efficiency.

Sofia Ritzen, PIEp Director, was very pleased with the event.

– PIEp sees Design thinking as an interesting approach to product design and believes that it has the power to affect innovation capabilities within an organization. Design thinking promotes a way of working that emphasizes user involvement and building quick easy models and as such can have an impact both on a strategic level and in operational design and development of products. We hope this event has contributed to a better understanding of what Design Thinking can mean to a company and how it can be used for increasing innovation capability. We also hope that people will be inspired and experience design thinking on their own, not just hear about it.

  • Click here for more information about PIEp.

By Karin Wall, chief editor
Photographs by Hans Wassaether