Why is Design Thinking important?

Design thinking has received a lot of attention in business press over the past few years.  For example, in June 2014 Forbes published the article “Why Design Thinking should be at the heart of your business” and in Sep 2015 Harvard Business Review had an issue dedicated to Design Thinking.

What is so special about how designers think and act that business press goes nuts about it?

In this blog post I will try to give my view on why Design Thinking is important.  I think it is about perspective and mental models.

First of all, most business people come from business, engineering or law schools.  These schools adhere to the tradition rational choice. 

Rational choice is an illusive theory.  We all want to believe we are rational.  However, what is rational varies from individual to individual.  Designers look at it from a different perspective compared to most business people.   What would be rational to a designer, is very often not rational when looked at it from an “ordinary” business person’s perspective.  Designers use other methods, values and mental models to find out what is rational to them and to the users. 

In his book “Design Attitude”, Kamil Michlewski pictures five different traits that distinguish designers from other business people:

  • Embracing Uncertainty and Ambiguity
  • Engaging in Deep Empathy
  • Embracing the Power of the Five Senses
  • Playfully Bringing Things to Life
  • Creating New Meaning from Complexity

In essence, designers and most business people come from different backgrounds and have different ways of solving problems.  Good design is inclusive and based on co-creation processes, especially with the end user.  It gives importance to aspects that are otherwise easily overlooked, aspects that the ordinary business person often would dismiss as being fuzzy, soft or simply irrelevant.

There are an increasing number of examples where a design attitude have led to extraordinary strong business results.  The number one example is of course Apple, where Steve Jobs and chief designer Jonathan Ives played pivotal roles in bringing design to the heart and soul of the company.  During the years in the nineties when Jobs was expelled from Apple, the “more ordinary” business people at the helm started doing more ordinary electronic products.  The result was disappointing at least.  When Jobs entered the scene again, design was once again established at the core of the company.

Hence, it looks like design is important.  But why?  I’d say it is because we are human beings.  We are not purely rational, purely logical or have purely functional needs.  We are complex beings and we are navigating in a complex environment.  Design puts the user at the center of attention.  It appeals to us as human beings.  As a user of a product, service or working in a business process, we like it better if it is designed for and with us.

This is why Design Thinking is important.  It brings the human and outside perspective to the business.  It brings a capability that is otherwise missing in most businesses and organizations.  Bringing more designers, design thinking and ultimately design attitude into you business will be a major revolution.  But it is a revolution that is already here.  Your competitors are doing it already, many of them are fully fledged.

That is why Design Thinking is important for you !

/Pontus Rystedt

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