Why Organizations Embrace Design Thinking for their Content

Learn how design thinking takes design away from designers and puts it at the center of how organizations are structured and communicate.

Published on 28 July, 2016 | Last modified on 1 November, 2022
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Technology has become so ubiquitous and ingrained within modern culture, that it’s no longer a secondary process or resource, but rather an extension of what some could argue, means to be human. Yet, the way many traditional organizations approach their internal and external processes hasn’t had the opportunity to change at the same rate. Some processes are just too big or too complex to tighten a grip around when stumbling to catch up. What often results are outward and inward measures that don’t cater to people, but rather cater to current technology.

However, there are many approaches that can help organizations gain a foothold in an ever changing world. Design thinking, also known as integrative thinking, is an approach that is used to solve complex problems that block organizations from success or growth. Forbes explains design thinking in its simplest form as “a process—applicable to all walks of life—of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems. It is not limited to a specific industry or area of expertise.”

This is true. Design thinking has helped diverse organizations—healthcare, technology, manufacturing, education, security, retail—realign both their internal processes and customer-facing strategies. However, design thinking is not a start to finish, linear process. It requires a lot of trial and error that is quickly swooped back into the drawing room. Companies that switch to become design-centric have to take on the challenges of patience, uncertainty, risks and failed expectations.

What is a Design-centric Organization?

Design thinking takes design away from designers and puts it at the center of how organizations are structured and communicate. This transcendence marks a change of attitude:  no longer is designing an obscure aesthetic focused on the micro level authority of artists, rather it is has been adapted to broadly function as a role across organizations, imparting ideas to benefit everyday people. The result of a design thinking organizational culture? A flexible, responsive organization with the focus primarily on the people.

A Human Centered Process

The first step of design thinking begins at empathizing with humans and understanding what humans need. Tim Brown, CEO of the innovation and design firm IDEO, explains in his TED Talk that design thinking is more than making a process or product work, it revolves around people and starts with understanding the current culture and context before expanding upon ideas. This humanized baseline centers around how you can make another human being’s experience better, no matter if they’re a customer or employee. It’s essential to empathize with end users before you can define a process and synthesize key ideas.

Because design thinking focuses on the personal experience, the processes that are created from this fundamentally bring to focus that experience. Organizations have adopted design thinking to oust outdated internal processes. As such, Deloitte University Press casts HR into a new role from a “process developer” to an “experience architect” when design thinking is implemented. As experience architects, those in HR roles can newly conceptualize employees’ physical environments, interactions, time management and also how organizations onboard, train, engage and assess employees.

Design-centric organizations primarily gather their operations around the customer or end user. In other words, these organizations evolve their technology and business around the customer with consideration of what the future needs of the customer may grow to be. When actualized, design thinking melds together the needs of the customers with technological possibilities and business requirements for success. This is why design thinking starts with human need rather than current technology or business conduits. With the human experience first and foremost, all the aspects of technology and business will transform to fit the needs of the customer.

Prototyping Ideas as Potential Solutions

Design thinkers will define what can streamline the process to their observations on the human culture. They will then explore a multiplicity of solutions by drafting possibilities and creating models that examine complex issues. In the words of Brown:  “So if human need is the place to start, then design thinking rapidly moves on to learning by making. Instead of thinking about what to build, building in order to think.” At its roots, prototypes transport human need to active participation. Prototypes may be digital or physical, but each prototype is essentially a pilot or demo that moves ideas from theory into practice.

“So if human need is the place to start, then design thinking rapidly moves on to learning by making. Instead of thinking about what to build, building in order to think.”

Speaking plainly, prototypes are the proof that’s in the pudding. (Try saying that five times fast.) Prototypes result in success, shortcomings or failure, and are the start of relatively understanding an idea’s strengths and its shortcomings. Additionally, these demos or pilots cause design thinkers to hasten the outpour of their innovation, because prototypes provide tangible results–spurring more ideas that are likely to embark on true success.


Evolving Through Active Participation

Prototyping ideas bring concepts into participation. This is a shift from pure consumption and provides an opportunity to create and measure process. McKinsey & Company recently hosted the authors of “Building a design-driven culture,” Jennifer Kilian and Hugo Sarrazin, on their podcast segment. Kilian and Sarrazin compare the success of design-centric companies, like Airbnb and Uber, that are able to engage highly with customers in an extremely different way, both continuously and in real time. These companies have become wildly popular because they place the needs and interests of the customers first instead of on profitability values.

Likewise, organizations are looking inwardly to help their internal teams manage and collaborate on further ideas by removing traditional processes and piloting new digital and mobile methodologies. For instance, HR teams are consolidating team members and are turning to digital technologies to become more flexible and agile. Design thinkers are now being actively sought after for their skills in placing companies at a disruptive and competitive advantage.

Why Design Thinking?

Our culture is changing at a fast and unprecedented pace. Change requires new approaches and new systems to find resolutions to evolving issues. Design thinking is a participative approach that drives ideas faster, keeping up with and anticipating societal change. As Harvard Business Review points out, the focus of major companies has shifted to focus on user experience. This is why organizations have embraced design-centric processes, they’re able to connect change to new ideas while actively engaging with customers and employees alike.

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