What is design thinking’s role in the new product development process? Michael Fruhling explains.

When companies consider all facets of the customer experience as part of their overall product design approach, they create a foundation for design thinking.

3M’s Mauro Porcini talked to PDMA Global Conference attendees about the power of design thinking in new product development. The concept is not entirely new. For example, IDEO has been espousing design thinking for a number of years, and companies like P&G and 3M have been eager practitioners. While aspects of the concept were previously known to me, a discussion of the overall process represented new ground. Elements of Porcini’s presentation that resonated with me were these:

Make sure that you carefully and insightfully understand the problem that you seek to solve.

For example, in designing a new counter-top water filtration system, 3M realized that while the filter would be integral to a solution, but it should not be the starting point. Rather, they came to understand that they should focus on customer perceptions of the purified water drinking experience, including how they feel about the choices currently available to them…and how these alternatives in turn, reflect upon them as individuals.

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

This quote from technology expert Alan Kay neatly expresses one of Porcini’s points. Customers can be an amazing resource to glean insight and understanding, but they are generally not able to articulate their latent and anticipated needs. Design thinking represents the interplay between “analytical mastery and intuitive originality” (Roger L. Miller).

Opportunities can gain traction within organizations through the power of expert storytelling.

The ability to create enthusiasm and a shared vision through expert storytelling is an uncommon but highly valuable trait. For example, Apple’s Steve Jobs is a brilliant storyteller, who creates “dreams, not products.” While some are born storytellers, any of us can develop strong storytelling skills to promote a shared vision within our organization. (Hint: start small, and go on to build consensus).


Design thinking is a rigorous, proven and repeatable approach to new product design that can and should be seriously considered as an organizational mindset. It is not something that can happen overnight or without seeding from those who already embrace this thinking. However, I encourage exploration by companies who have interest in a developing a more enlightened and holistic approach to new product design.

Michael Fruhling is the Founder and CEO of bfs innovations, Inc., which provides technology sourcing and open innovation services to organizations. He has 25 years of new business and new product development experience and success with companies including Procter and Gamble, Bristol Myers Squibb/Drackett and Bath and Body Works.