The rise of design thinking

Design thinking, design-led innovation and business model innovation – these are all concepts gaining momentum in business today. My colleagues and I have been discussing the impact of design on the Australian manufacturing sector. With the advent of new technologies such as Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) and the shift from manufacturing to manufacturing services, design and design thinking will have a greater influence over manufacturing than ever before.

I recently attended a workshop on design-led innovation, led by Prof Sam Bucolo of Queensland University of Technology. I thought I would share some of the freely available resources Sam used to introduce the topic of design thinking.

Firstly, design thinking is not a reference to product design or prototyping – however in Australia, this tends to be the dominant view of design. Design thinking or design-led innovation is a human centred approach to innovation and application of that approach across all innovation activities. It also reflects the importance of engaging in design thinking at the idea generation stage, rather than once it has been developed – according to Tim Brown’s 2008 HBR article on ‘Design Thinking’.

This is similar to Life Cycle Thinking, which is also best applied at the concept stage rather than once a product has been developed. In both cases, the application of the right skills at the commencement of a project is a more strategic approach, leveraging the maximum value of design or life cycle skills that will inevitably positively influence the project result.

Check out Doblin’s ten types of innovation. I found it interesting, yet not surprising, that the majority of innovation investment is in new product design – the offering stage. Innovating either the ‘configuration’ or ‘experience’ stages has been neglected and this is where design thinking adds value. We are more comfortable designing a new product, than designing an entirely new business model. The former fits within an existing business framework, the latter turns everything on its head and yields new, as yet unconsidered, opportunities for a company.

Last year, I was in Portland’s world renowned, Powell’s books. As I browsed the business shelves I came across the eyecatching book – Business Model Generation. Travel constraints meant I reluctantly didn’t purchase it and after almost a year, Sam’s workshop reminded of this book. There is a fantastic 72 page preview to download at the website and of course, an ipad app. The simplicity of a business model on a page, known as ‘canvas’, concept allows companies of all sizes to engage in thinking about their entire business.

As if I needed more evidence for the benefits of design thinking, the day following the Sam’s workshop, I met an Enterprise Connect representative who uses the ‘Business Model Canvas’ for his SME Business Reviews. He finds it works very well for that purpose. Although one of the most powerful statistics has to be that listed on the NZ, Better by Design website – “design engaged companies listed on the London Stock Exchange outperformed the FTSE by 200% over a 10-year period.” Improved business performance is just one reason why we are experiencing a rise in design thinking.


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