Michael D. Moberly July 17, 2017 firstname.lastname@example.org ‘A business intangible asset blog where attention span really matters.’
Design-thinking is an ideology which emphasizes a practical, user-centric approach to problem resolution which, in turn, can lead to (potential) innovations which differentiate businesses, companies, products, and/or services through competitive advantages produced. In other words, design thinking represents an ideology to problem resolution that is supported by accompanying processes.
There is nothing particularly new about design thinking, in fact, it has been variously practiced for literally, hundreds of years. Design thinking was coined in the 1990’s by David Kelley and Tim Brown of IDEO, along with Roger Martin, and incorporated methods and ideas into a single unified concept.
On the business side, ‘product design’ has often manifested as afterthoughts, i.e., touch ups applied to create distinguishing aesthetic features, components and/or qualities to products as ‘topical design applications’ which not infrequently, fail to meet customers-users-clients’ real needs.
Good design thinkers are inclined to engage – approach their work through creative processes which are user-centric which elevate the probability that solutions (outcomes) will be more effective, in part because meaningful, and memorable intangibles have been inserted. Two early examples of design thinking include…
• Charles and Ray Eames who, in the early 1900’s, practiced “learning by doing” in which they explored a range of needs and constraints before designing the famous Eames chairs.
• 1960’s dressmaker Jean Muir was well known for her “common sense” approach to clothing design, placing as much emphasis on how her clothes felt to wear as they looked to others.
These designers were innovators of their time. Their approaches can be viewed as early examples of design thinking — as they each developed a deep understanding of their users’ lives and unmet needs.
As I have come to understand the evolution of design thinking, the words were coined in the 1990’s by David Kelley and Tim Brown of IDEO, along with Roger Martin, to encapsulate methods and ideas which they had individually and collectively been framing for years until they were unified in a standalone concept.
Today, it’s fair to say, companies which combine forward thinking – looking and user-centricity in the design of their products are clearly receptive to and recognize the relevance and importance of having designers immersed – engaged in each phase of a process. This often manifests as moving designers from the end of a product-development process where their input and contribution is obviously limited, to the beginning of a process, where there are opportunities to shape product development to reflect and accommodate user needs, i.e., incorporating the intangible with the tangible far better than conventional linear and/or milestone-based approaches. Design thinking does not follow a pre-defined series of sequenced and/or orderly steps. Thus, the notion that creative ideas suddenly enter and burst from one’s mind, already fully formed, is seldom the case. What new things one may learn from the iterative steps of design thinking, in my view, are various complimentary and contributory intangible assets.
Tim Brown cites Thomas Edison’s creation of the electric light bulb as a still relevant example of design thinking. As Brown describes it, Edison’s invention of the light bulb, served as one, albeit, relatively small, component of a much larger industry which he (Edison) envisioned. Edison’s genius, Brown says, does not lie merely in inventing a single, relatively discreet ‘parlor trick’ device, i.e., the electric light bulb. Rather his genius evolved from his ability to conceive an eventual fully developed marketplace surrounded by-the-use of the electric light bulb.
Another element of Edison’s genius evolved from his futuristic (horizonal) vision how people would come to want to possess and use the electric light bulb. Brown says the vision Edison espoused, and the approach he applied to achieve that vision, constituted an early example of ‘design thinking’. Edison’s visionary marketplace was a system of electric power, i.e., generation and transmission that would render the ‘light bulb’ useful and relevant on mass scale globally.
Of course, Apple, a contemporary and consistent leader in design thinking, where horizonal and user-centric (product, system, brand, support) functionalities are repeatedly applied (integrated) and effectively exploited to deliver differentiators, market advantages, and historically strong returns, many of which clearly manifest as intangible assets.
It’s not difficult to recognize that design thinking differs substantially from conventional linear and milestone-based business actions. Design thinking is the product of iterative intellectual work, the core of which is a human-centered process of discovery, coupled with prototyping, testing, and refining cycles. In other words, design thinking embodies a system of ‘spaces’ that distinguish various activities that ultimately come to form a ‘continuum of innovation’, i.e., inspiration, ideation, and implementation.
So, however it may be referred, design thinking is a methodology that encompasses a range of activities related to innovation, but with a very specific and important twist; that is, it has a people – user centered (design) focus, influenced, Brown says, by direct observation of what people, presumably prospective users and consumers…
• want and need in their lives, and
• what they like and/or dislike about the way that product is made, packaged, sold, and supported.
A special thanks to Tim Brown’s fine article titled ‘Design Thinking’, Harvard Business Review, June 2008 which Mr. Moberly has adapted for application to his ‘Business IP and Intangible Asset Blog’.