Applying Design Thinking in the Enterprise
What is Design Thinking?
In broad terms, design thinking refers to an innovative approach to devising products and solutions, whose focus is on the human experience. User centricity, useful functionality and process efficiency are the core of what design thinking aims to accomplish, through a set of pioneering methods and tools. Tim Brown, the CEO of Ideo, famously defined it as “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.”
A ground-breaking paradigm
Though it may sound obviously simple today, before design thinking took shape as such, many solutions that were being developed often failed to achieve their very purpose – fulfilling the needs of their users. Not only were the products and services conceived by corporations user-unfriendly – they were often exclusively developed with their creators’ point of view in mind, employing the technology that was most readily available – and seldom coinciding with true consumer needs.
Fortunately, some product and solution providers have come a long way since the dark ages and the old-fashioned approach to design when the term ‘user experience’ meant nothing. Today, innovation-committed organizations and product teams appreciate the importance of conducting customer research, creating and validating user personas, and testing assumptions before deciding on a particular system design.
Design thinking in an enterprise context
In its essence, design thinking is much more than a design methodology – when applied correctly, it becomes a way of working that permeates the organization at all levels. More than just a customer-centered approach to doing business, design thinking can be seen as an overarching organizational framework that can be beneficial to all levels and functions in the enterprise – from customer service and supply chain to product development, marketing and finance.
Cultural and organizational shifts often need to occur before design thinking can be fully adopted by everyone, eventually transforming the organization and delivering true value. In addition to taking external customer needs into account, when devising organization-wide tools and services change agents must also consult the ways of working of internal stakeholders. The latter include employees, management, suppliers and partners. Their needs and goals are just as important as those of the end customers when it comes to devising the systems and tools they will interact with, daily.
The upsides of design thinking
Perhaps the biggest upside to adopting the principles of design thinking in an enterprise is the ability to truly differentiate its offerings from those of the competition. This is accomplished by carefully analyzing the unique needs of diverse target groups and successfully reconciling them in the process of developing products and services that work well for all consumers or users.
Though this way of innovating may sound complex and time-consuming, it is a foolproof path towards establishing a competitive advantage in fast-paced sectors where the alternative offerings keep getting more plentiful and the entry barriers keep getting lower. Sure, the process of changing systems thinking to design thinking may involve some growing pains, especially in larger enterprises where change is slow and often difficult. Still, once the methodology is fully rolled out, innovation pace can speed up and so can time-to-market, thanks to a continuously growing, deeper knowledge of customer needs and usage patterns.
Design thinking as a key to organizational transformation
Enterprises that are able to apply design thinking to their processes stand to benefit from helping their target audience establish a better understanding and a more profound connection with their offerings, ultimately leading to renewed loyalty and uptake in repeat business. In a digital world where commercial success often relies on the rapid adoption of new technologies and fast innovation, design thinking methods also provide a suitable method for securing cross-functional collaboration thanks to the commitment to a common vision, sponsorship and support from management.
When the goals of the entire organization coincide and this is clearly communicated all around, resistance can be effectively reduced. Achieving organizational alignment and meeting these goals then becomes a question of ‘how’ rather than ‘what.’ Over time, this approach can make a substantial difference in the way corporations innovate, achieve goals and measure success.