If you desire to work in a creative environment, that place might actually be a hospital or a bank. Once the unique competence of creative companies, design thinking has become a way of problem solving for a wide range of companies. In some cases, organisations embraced design thinking by acquiring creative companies and moving them in-house.
Design thinking begins with empathy for the user, and works towards overcoming a challenge. It is an integrated problem-solving practice, that merges the functional, rational and analytical way of thinking, with the emotional, intuitive, and inspirational. Assumptions are challenged, prototypes are built, and the process is shared. Over the last several years, companies that would be classified as Left Brain organisations have built Right Brain departments.
Why is this happening? Competitive advantage is one reason, but the complexity of issues facing industries is another.
As the need for design thinking has grown, what does that mean for creative firms? If all companies are creative, then why would any client approach a creative firm to solve a problem if they have the internal capabilities to solve it themselves?
This can be seen at the TED Institute, a program organised by the popular ideas conference. TED helps organisations like UPS and BCG identify internal creators, and helps them to share their insights in the TED style.
To some observers, the growth of design thinking in organisations is eliminating design as a business, but companies such as IDEO are proving that there is still a role for creative companies to help other organisations build a creative culture. Companies want to build internal systems that encourage innovation.
A quote on the company’s website, from IDEO’s CEO, Tim Brown, states that “design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”
When Lufthansa wanted to improve its business class experience, they approached IDEO to transform their long-haul service into a modern, human-centered experience. IDEO built a full scale cardboard model of the business class parts of the aircraft at their Munich studio, and tested insights gained from a variety of airlines that offer luxury service. Then the prototypes were tested in a real Airbus A380, with real passengers and crew, at Lufthansa’s Raunheim facility. The exercise helped the airline to identify opportunities to improve its service, which they implemented across their fleet.
IDEO helped other organisations with similar requests, such as when Holiday Inn Express Europe wanted to modernise their hotel experience and the San Francisco Unified School District wanted to update how they feed their students.
Education of all industries seems like the right fit for design thinking to flourish. Educators are teaching students as young as 5 years old how to think like a designer. As more emphasis is placed on exposing kids to design thinking, schools and groups all over the world are taking note. There is even a Twitter hashtag, #DTK12chat, for educators to see what their colleagues in other cities and countries are doing.
Not only is design thinking used for the very young, but also for older, more sophisticated students in medical school. With all that medical students have to learn, design thinking is seen as an important addition to spur innovation around the patient experience, both in terms of being comfortable and getting through the health systems. Design thinking is also being used to help universities grads make the jump from school to the workforce.
Even government agencies dealing with foreign policy and counterterrorism are seeing design thinking as a solution in a world full of diverse threats. Problems that are poorly defined and unknown are seen to require more than logical thinking. If governments are using design thinking for serious issues such as these, you know the principle has gotten deep into the mainstream. It’s not surprising to see design thinking used for marketing, but for defending the homeland? What about the World Bank trying to achieve financial inclusion? Or showing how nuclear waste can be transformed into fuel? Surely, the world has finally understood the importance of design.
That is why we shouldn’t be surprised to see organisations like Design Thinkers Group, and Design Impact Group broadening their reach, or the newly founded Design Thinkers Academy in London, attracting new people.
Design, creativity, innovation are no longer buzzwords, but ways in which traditionally non-creative industries are building their businesses and achieving their goals. Still, if design thinking is everywhere, and everyone is doing it, is there still a reason for clients to approach creative companies such as IDEO? Yes, because design is constantly refreshing itself. Though airlines, banks, hospitals and schools may have design thinking internally, the core of their business is still something else.
What the ubiquity of design thinking means for the average designer, is that a job with the government or a large corporation, tackling serious global issues, like energy consumption and terrorism, might be just as good or better of a choice, than working for a creative company.
Words: Phil Roberts