Design Thinking Morning Future
Guiding Trend 7 May May 2018 0838 7 May 2018

Guide to successful Design Thinking

Everything there is to know on the approach to innovation that is revolutionising businesses by mixing analytical and intuitive thinking. From history to models and impact on work

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150 internationally surveyed start-ups in support of Design Thinking processes, for a total financing of 908 million dollars (about seven million on average for each start-up). The United States is the most advanced area with 86 start-ups which is more than twice the number in Europe (41). Only three of the start-ups analysed operate in Italy. Very briefly this is the result of the latest research on the subject conducted by the Design Thinking Observatory of the School of Management of Milan Polytechnic.

What is Design Thinking

«It is an approach to innovation that is based on the ability to integrate the analytical abilities frequently supported by quantitative methods and techniques with creative approaches based on more synthetic and direct processes of inference», explained Claudio Dell'Era, Director of the Design Thinking Observatory for Business.

Initially circulated as the main approach to innovation used by design agencies and studios such as IDEO, Frog or Design Group Italia, Design Thinking (DT) is describing new dynamics of dissemination breaking into sectors which are very different but above all unimaginable until a few years ago.

«Although DT does not in itself represent a completely new approach, in the last 10 years it has undergone numerous transformations which on one hand have made it increasingly difficult to define it and on the other hand made it interesting for a growing group of players outside the world of design. The advent of digital technology in its various forms has speeded up the phenomenon and made further transformations of DT possible.

«Design Thinking is an approach to innovation that is based on the ability to integrate the analytical abilities supported by quantitative methods and techniques with creative approaches based on more synthetic and direct processes.

Claudio Dell'Era, Director of the Design Thinking Observatory for Business

The pervasive presence of digital technology in our daily life has progressively required greater attention and specific ability in the design of digital solutions which are not only functional and effective but also pleasant and engaging. The ability to mix analytical and intuitive thought opportunely underlies this approach and immediately it seemed a good lever for dealing with these challenges».

The models of Design Thinking

The analyses conducted by the Observatory during the course of 2017 indicate the emergence of 4 different interpretations of Design Thinking.

  1. Creative Problem Solving - This means the support that Design Thinking can provide in generating new solutions in a creative way, exploiting productive moments such as brainstorming sessions that allow companies to resolve the problems and needs of users. «This method is what is usually used by consultants in order to find new solutions, imagine new products and understand the needs of users», is a point that Dell'Era stressed, «it is culturally rooted in the Anglo-American context and is based on two fundamental principles: on one hand the alternation of diverging and converging phases, when understanding the problem to be dealt with and when developing a solution, makes it possible to get the most out of the creativity of the individuals that form part of the innovation team; on the other hand the centrality of the user is considered fundamental for creating an innovation effective to the point that those for whom the innovation is intended can be considered sources of knowledge essential for inducing original and valuable concepts».
  2. Sprint Execution - This exploits rapid prototyping, the desire of companies to test solutions rapidly in order to get an idea of the value perceived by the users. «This approach is often connected with situations changing radically where the time to market is crucial and widespread in start-ups. In fact, they are often in the position of having to understand as quickly as possible the pros and cons of the solutions they are thinking of launching in the market. It involves a relationship with the target market that is even more intense than that underlying the Creative Problem Solving approach: in the knowledge that users are relatively capable of offering innovative ideas that are particularly different from the current situation this enhances the contribution of the users in the test phase and successive revisiting of the solution proposed», added the director, «In other words the interaction with the market continues to offer valuable knowledge for innovation, no longer in terms of needs or wishes but in terms of direct experience in relation to embryonic products which are launched and tested quickly. This type of interpretation of Design Thinking is particularly coherent with the dynamics that distinguish digital innovation».
  3. Creative Confidence - This represents an interpretation of Design Thinking that aims to stimulate widespread entrepreneurship within organisations. «In this case DT is enhanced in its capacity to create confidence with the creative and innovative processes that distinguish innovation. Nowadays businesses ask themselves with increasing frequency how to innovate, how to transmit a sense of and a desire for innovation to their employees», explained Dell'Era who also added that «Creative Confidence is offered precisely as an instrument for reaching these objectives. Stimulating attitudes that underpin DT such as empathy, tolerance to risk and failure, capacity to manage ambiguity and uncertainty, create the prerequisites within organisations so that they can be innovative and inclined to change».
  4. Innovation of Meaning - Identifiable as one of the frontiers of Design Thinking and aimed at determining directions and development strategies that may be of value both for the organisation and that promote them, and for the user that users them. «Like Creative Confidence, this interpretation is different to the first two in that it is more oriented toward the creation of a vision rather than a solution. If the first two approaches exploit creative and imaginative abilities, the last two concern more the critical and interpretative attitudes», said the director.

The company advantages of Design Thinking

The advent of digital technology in its various forms has speeded up the proliferation of DT and made further transformations possible. The pervasive presence of digital technology in our daily life has progressively required greater attention and specific ability in the design for digital solutions which are not only functional and effective but also pleasant and engaging. The fundamental attitude of DT to mix analytical and intuitive thought opportunely immediately seemed a good lever for dealing with these challenges.

The pervasiveness of the digital transformation does not affect only the products and services ​offered, but requires a radical rethinking of organisational processes and structures.

Claudio Dell'Era, Director of the Design Thinking Observatory for Business

«Various Design Agencies such as Frog Design or Fjord have thus made use of their abilities in an original way to deal with the challenges and needs proposed by the design of digital systems. Other concerns – typically smaller, set up directly during the digital era and specialised in the design of digital User Experience and User Interface (UX/UI) – immediately based their abilities on DT. Suffice it to mention Caffeina or Gaia. The pervasiveness of the digital transformation does not affect only the products and services offered by the more pioneering businesses but requires a radical rethinking of the processes and organisational structures with which these products and services are designed, created and distributed», said Dell'Era. The interest on the part of management consulting firms and large developers of software in DT demonstrates how this approach can support very delicate transformations of an organisational nature in an inclusive and empathetic way. Dell'Era has no doubts: «Firms such as Deloitte Digital rather than the Experience Centres of PwC demonstrate the evolutionary dynamics of DT in this direction». As pointed out by an article in TechCrunch published last 31 May, numerous high-tech companies have invested substantial amounts over the last 5 years in the potential of design for redesigning their method of working. «IBM has modified the ratio between designers and developers from 1:72 to 1:8, Dropbox from 1:10 to 1:6 and LinkedIn from 1:11 to 1:8. We anticipate that in the next 12 months we will see a growing use of design thinkers to support organisational redesign».

The impact of Design Thinking on work

The centrality of the individual in the processes of innovation based on DT does not concern only those on the receiving end of the innovation but also those who created it and the promoters. «DT is increasingly of fundamental importance in engaging people that operate within organisations and in the determination of a common vision to pursue energetically and with conviction», concludes Dell'Era, «In this sense DT on one hand requires a more pervasive involvement in innovation processes and on the other hand offers methods and instruments that make people more confident when faced with processes of change, transformation and innovation. Very briefly, DT thus becomes a catalysing approach of creative and innovative prospects and attitudes».

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