Design Thinking: Have you tried this new cuisine?

By : |June 21, 2016 0
What makes design outfits like Hot Studio, Adaptive Path, PininFarina, Fjord, Lunar and Designit attractive enough for Facebook, Capital One, Mahindra, Accenture, McKinsey and Wipro respectively? What has design got to do with technology after all?

Pratima H

“Get Creative and Messy.”

“Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”


“Give yourself space.”

At Forrester’s Digital Transformation Forum in Mumbai last week; Ryan Hart, Principal Analyst, Forrester was spreading some unusual advice for some unusual experimenters of the digital universe.

It’s not hard to guess that the very notion of being design-ish may sound glossy-yet-irrelevant to some people, particularly if they still believe in the right brain-left brain boundaries defining technology geographies even now.

It’s hard to swallow the word ‘design’ unless it is accompanied by some maverick Hollywood iconoclast, a studio with tattoo-ed arms all over, a canoe hanging in an advertising firm’s corridor or an architect with creative tantrums.

But what if ‘design’ is more than that and spilling over those boundaries? Isn’t it gushing all over in the technology world too?What if we uttered names like Indian government, Indian Oil Corp, Pepsico, Starbucks in the same breath?

If you look at the design way of thinking as a new way of solving complex problems with a new way of navigating them per se, you might not find the idea too bizarre? Specially, from a lens of application to systems, procedures, protocols, and customer/user experiences.

When a mind is solution-obsessed and not problem-focused, design can indeed flip the narrative a lot. After all, there’s so much at work together – logic, imagination, customer-intimacy, intuition, and systemic reasoning, end-user orientation, open arms to new possibilities and more.

Back then in 2014, Design-led companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Whirlpool were spotted to have outperformed the S&P 500 over the previous 10 years by 219 per cent, as per what the Design Management Institute assessed. What is that some design-led innovators are doing right?

Ryan Hart decodes the mystery.

Another new buzzword? Another set of snow-flakes floating up as we shake the glass-globe? How new is Design Thinking and how long before the flakes settle down?

I would say that this concept has been around for a long time, in fact, a decade or so. Different approaches could be considered as design thinking. It has become popular in the last five years specially with design-led products and services though. Customers feel empowered with technology here. They also have a chance to become influencers. The power has shifted from institutions to customers. These reasons, along with some macro-economic causes, have come together to create the perfect storm of design thinking.

Is it a huge change?

Gone are the days when back-offices and engineers used to handle it. It’s the age of the ‘customer-first’ approach and that defines the problem in a new hypothesis and then leads the way to ideating solutions around prototyping and testing it.

How much role companies like Apple, Ikea or names like Jonathan Ive might have played?

There are two areas of thought in that sense. Some think that the whole concept started with industrial design as many as 100 years back. Another camp feels it belongs to mechanical engineering strides and universities spurred by the likes of GE, Honeywell etc where students were given problems and then they came up with prototypes. Some opine that although it was born long back that way, it was not commercialized till the Ideo framework. I would say that long before Google or Apple came to the scene here, the education space started it all.

They say that if critical thinking is all about breaking down, design thinking is all about building up. Your views.

I think it’s a bit different. Design thinking is not merely about the problem but about the perspectives of customers. Having contextual interviews, ethnographic surveys, customer-product interactions, and other ways of trying to grab what really driving them is a huge ingredient. It is not an inside-out thinking but an outside-in one.

Isn’t there a risk of going too tangential?

Listening to customers is paramount. If they want a baseball bat but you offer them a badminton racket, then something is amiss. Then something is wrong in the process or the articulation part. If you talk to customers first and right, then risk of tangents is less.

How crucial is the notion of a box (or constraints) to design thinking?

Understanding the box is a traditional way of thinking. Steve Jobs started with customers and worked backwards on the technology. You have to see the customer first instead of constraints. Then see what technology can do for the customer and start working around what’s been restraining the solution.

If we look at it from an IT point of view, how tough or expensive is the idea of re-engineering despite its gloss-factor?

You start with small pilots and projects. You give teams flexibility and budget for the problem. You demonstrate the solution well or use it as a springboard for future potential. Then the process becomes different unlike a traditional waterfall or boxed approach.

Do you have any favourites so far?

Ideo is a good example. The way design thinking has been used for CT scans for children or baby wraps for infants in developing countries or London Tube are great examples of the approach.

Would you aver that this age is all about intuitive products?

The world has become so competitive and everything is so globally available that to differentiate one definitely needs to have deep, and very deep, understanding of what the customer would actually want.

Has the services-product continuum also changed drastically that way?

Services have become a higher-value component for customers while products are getting commoditised and outsourced so that’s why probably the spectrum has got a bit skewed.

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