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Design thinking in 26 ways

30 September 2015   (0 Comments)
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Design thinking has become a widely accepted term to describe the process of identifying what end-users need and finding ways to meet those needs. In her research into the application of design thinking in current project management models, Puleng Makhoalibe, Head of the School of Innovation and Branding at Henley Business School, Design Thinker and PHD Candidate at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, found that many companies in South Africa are adopting design thinking as a business tool. She also found at least 26 different definitions of the process!

Puleng explains: “My research to date has shown that while design thinking sounds new, businesses in South Africa are embracing the process. They just don’t necessarily call it that every time. Regardless of the label used, their processes embody common design thinking elements – defining the problem, gathering data, ideating on possible solutions, rapid prototyping and implementing the solution.”

Puleng has now created a booklet titled The ABC of Design Thinking, which maps the 26 different definitions to every letter in the alphabet. Drawn from definitions provided by design thinking practitioners, researchers and writers, her research shows how the design thinking concept is represented in current literature, and also how versatile and fluid it is in different contexts.

Businesses usually ask “what do we want to make?”. Now they are beginning to ask “what do our customers need?”. This is where design thinking starts: by understanding a customer’s pain-point and finding ways to address the need. But simply introducing design thinking as a process is not always enough to shift the business’s focus from being product-centric to being user-centric. A shift in company culture is needed too.

How do businesses achieve that?

Design in business: a clear-cut case

Fluctuating economics, increasing competition and changing technology can be some of the triggers that force companies to redefine themselves. Design is one of the tools that can facilitate this change.

In 2013, Warwick Business School conducted a study on behalf of the Design Council in the UK, to explore how businesses are adopting design as a business tool. The 12 participants included multinational corporates such as Jaguar Land Rover, Barclays and Virgin Atlantic, and medium-sized entrepreneurial businesses. The results revealed three key findings that capture why design is important, what design should do, and the role of corporate culture in incorporating design into business.

  • Design can add value to any organisation – design can benefit manufacturing and service-based organisations, small, medium or large
  • Design is customer-centred – benefit is greatest when design is intimately related to solving problems, especially customers’ problems
  • Design is most powerful when culturally embedded – it works best when it has strong support in the organisation, especially from senior management

Three things that facilitate change: champions, ownership and trust

Puleng’s research reflects those outcomes. She explains: “Design thinking is a mindset, an approach that forms a culture of openness. But if a business wants to transform the way it operates, then there must be senior level buy-in. The shift in mindset cannot come from bottom-up.”

Shifting company culture is a complex process in itself.

David Perrott, co-founder of Gravity Ideas, a Cape Town-based behavioural change consultancy, agrees: “The most important part of any change management process is building up a strong foundation of knowledge, insights and understanding at the beginning. You need a champion who will facilitate the whole process, who is immersed in what we are doing. Change doesn’t happen overnight and there needs to be continual communication to ensure participants remain engaged.”

Speaking of stakeholder engagement, ownership is equally important. David explains: “It’s essential that participants feel a sense of ownership in the process. Their efforts, ideas and solutions all add value and it’s important that they feel they’re making a meaningful contribution.”

The final point relates to trust and credibility: “Trust is a very important part of the change management process. Participants need to trust that the facilitators have a credible track record backed up by credible methodologies and research that will help effectively guide them on the journey of change. More crucially, they need to trust the process will help them to achieve the desired results.”

For more about Gravity Ideas, see their website here.

Puleng’s book is due to be published at the end of the year. We’ll keep you posted!

Image source: socialtech.eu


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