The Black Art of Design Thinking

I recently found myself addressing a conference of small businesses where I had been given the Design Thinking slot. For various reasons including an upturned lorry on the M6, my slot had suddenly become a lot shorter. So while desperately thinking what I was going to cover I thought I would ask the audience if they had heard of Design Thinking. It was quite a tumbleweed moment, not only had no one heard of Design Thinking, I really felt that by using the ‘D’ word I had also managed to lose the majority of my audience, before I had even begun. So how can we talk about Design Thinking without talking about ‘Design’ or even ‘Thinking’…

Design Thinking – What Its Not …

· Its not difficult, if you have ever planned a big party, a complicated road trip or renovated your home you have used Design Thinking.

· We’ve all seen the recent exciting job adverts looking for design thinkers to come into large organisations and wave their magic wands in order to transform the business. However Design Thinking is not new, its been around in various guises since the 1960s.

· The word Design unfortunately does have connotations with making things look nice, black polo neck jumpers and the ability to draw – these are not absolutely necessary for Design Thinking.

· Yes, there is some thinking but actually there is an awful lot of doing, getting out of the building talking to people, building and testing prototypes etc.

· Design Thinking is not one tool it’s a tool box and the real skill is knowing what tools are right for the job.

· Design Thinking is not the total answer, it’s a great framework for front end innovation and finding the problem worth solving but when you start to move onto prototyping and testing then Lean Start Up becomes a better tool for business.

Design Thinking – What It Might Be…

· Design Thinking is definitely a process but its not linear and expect to go round the loop a few times. Good places to start are the Design Councils Double Diamond Process or the iconic IDEO Design Thinking Process.

· Design Thinking is definitely Human Centred its about developing empathy with customers/users/stakeholders and really understanding their problems before you jump to solutions.

· Design Thinking is definitely about building cross functional teams which require great facilitation.

· Design Thinking is definitely about building mock ups/prototypes and testing with real people and listening to feedback and then going again.

So instead of the term Design Thinking lets think about a creative problem solving framework with people at the heart under pinned by testing and learning – I guess its not quite as catchy though …

So if you have a better way of talking about Design Thinking we‘d love to hear from you. Or, if fancy a chat about the practicalities of innovating better then please get in touch at

#innovation #designthinking #design


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