Enough Design Thinking Theory Already

by Idris Mootee

How About Let’s Start With Design Thinking 101?

by Idris Mootee

Enough Design Thinking Theory AlreadyI’ve written extensively and spoken publicly a lot about the myth of design thinking. Honestly I am getting a little tired reading about it myself. How people can over theorized a very simple idea and now the term is becoming another buzzword. What is design thinking? Design thinking is not about design. It is about helping companies and individuals to think differently about strategic options and system impact. Futurists have been around for a long time, but design thinking combines with strategic foresight can help integrate the future(s) into existing strategies, not many organizations do that systematically and on an institutional level.

Design thinking basically incorporates three key elements from various design discipline and most powerful if you combine them with strategic context, this is where D-school meets B-school:

First is observational research or ethnography which is less commonly used in strategy due to obsession of quantitatively data. Ethnography is traditionally a social science research method (beware if an ad agency person that studied 4 weeks in the subject in his/her second year undergrad who is fast to claim that he/she is qualified). The methodology relies heavily on personal experience. At Idea Couture, our ethnographers often work in multidisciplinary teams to perform rapid and intensive study of a single domain, utilizing a blend of historical, observational, and interview methods. The final product? It is a powerful combination of visual (photos) and written narratives that can give shape to new constructs, paradigms and perspectives.

The second one is visual sense-making. This is a black box for many but at Idea Couture, this is where art and science intersects. It is in some ways similar to system thinking (but different) with the main difference being when we apply system dynamics we see how relationships between these drivers interact and produce a system effect. In visual sense-making, it is basically a complex interplay of different elements to help or accelerate cognitive processing. The common thing is both provide a system view.

What is a system? A system is an organized collection of parts that are integrated to achieve a certain goal. A market is made up of many subsystems…namely products, marketing, sales, technology, customer service etc. If one part of the system is altered, it will impact the whole system. Visual sense-making generally does not require much learning, but is useful if apply properly. It can easily become a pointless academic exercise if the strategic context is absence and I see that happening quite often.

The third one is rapid prototyping. This is particularly important to improve speed to market and for markets that are rapidly evolving. The benefit of rapid prototyping includes:

  1. Quickly and costly effectively determine how a concept is supposed to work
  2. Determine what users really want
  3. Use abstractions and sometimes mathematical models to improve a concept quantitatively or qualitatively testing a prototype to predict user behavior
  4. Determine whether customer value and business value are aligned (business sense) and if not how big is the gap

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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