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Design Thinking - A critical review

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Design Thinking - A critical review

  1. 1. DESIGNTHINKING What is design thinking? - A critical review. Stephen Whyte
 Hyper Island
 Digital Media Management MA
 August 2014
 Thinking “Design thinking is a concept used in both theory and practice.”
 (Johansson-Sk"oldberg,Woodilla and cCetinkaya, p.121) “Design thinking is the discipline of cycling through many contextual exercises of placements to understand ‘how sense can be made of something and given this, the designer is then in a position to choose which contexts should dominate the manner in which they should’ ” 
 (Wylant, 2010, cited in (Johansson-Sk"oldberg,Woodilla and cCetinkaya, p.128) “The process of continuously redesigning a business using insight derived from customer intimacy, persuasively argue that it is a key capability for revolutionary innovators and a potential source of sustainable competitive advantage” 
 (Martin, 2009, cited in (Liedtka, 2014 p.40) “We do not believe that there is a unique meaning of ‘design thinking’, and accordingly we should not look for one.”
 (Johansson-Sk"oldberg, Woodilla and cCetinkaya, p.132)
 “Design Thinking is complex, emergent, and diverse in its construction and application” 
 (Stewart S, 2014 p.517) An “unwavering focus on creative designs of systems” 
 (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2012 p.22) “Design thinking is a model that allows firms to integrate design into their core activities as a spur to innovation”
 (Martin, 2009, cited in Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2012 p. 22)
  3. 3. WHY CAN ‘DESIGNTHINKING’ NOT BE DEFINED? From my research it has become clear that ‘Design Thinking’ has a different meaning for a range of people, depending on their experience of the concept, the use of the tools and what industry or field they work in. It has many different purposes and can be used in many ways. This has caused a problem that the term ‘design thinking’ can no longer be described in one clear sentence. Design thinking is used for many purposes: • Problem Solving • Knowledge • Team Building • Management • Internal Challenges • A way to engage with customers • Discovering new possibilities ISTHEVALUETO DESIGNTHINKING APPRECIATED? IS IT A PROBLEMTHAT IT CAN'T BE DEFINED? Lidtka describes how design thinking can be used as both a problem solving and an innovation process. (Liedtka 2014) It is a concept that can be used in both theoretical and practical practices. This allows design thinking to be used within many different area’s of a company; from a management level to designer level and across many different sectors including innovation roles, design fields, education and as a method to try to solve many of society’s issues. I feel that design thinking being looked upon as a tool with multiple uses across different fields, dilutes the value of the concept within the academic fields and various industries. Although it could be argued that although many people would like a clear definition of design thinking, ‘such a quest for unity is counterproductive for the academic development of the area that it deserves’ 
 (Johansson-Sk"oldberg, Woodilla and cCetinkaya, 2013. pp132)
  4. 4. With an increased interest, study and engagement with design thinking, a simple way to discuss the concept is as two distinct discourses: WHAT’STHE ACADEMICVIEW ON DESIGNTHINKING? Stewart (2011) holds the view that, while architecture and engineering have long professional histories with vast academic research, many of the design fields have only become the subject of academic research in the last decades of the 20th century. Although it may seem to many that design thinking is a new concept, there has been many studies carried out on the behaviour of designers characteristics over the past 40 years. It’s within the management discourse of design thinking that academic research has recently developed (Johansson-Sk"oldberg, Woodilla and cCetinkaya, 2013) and due to this, this is an area where I see a gap and lack of understanding of the concept. I agree that there is room for closer conversations between researchers of design and representatives of other fields to develop this concept further. (Liedtka, 2014) Without a further understanding of these areas, there is the possibility for further misunderstandings of ‘how’ and ‘when’ to use the tools design thinking provides.
 Academic research can help to ‘define’ the areas of design thinking. Kimbell suggests that the focus should move from individual designers and their styles, towards cultures of designers as this would help develop a better understanding and clarification of knowledge practice. (Kimbell 2011) ‘DESIGNERLY’ 
 AND ‘DESIGN THINKING’ ‘Designerly Thinking’
 When design practice and competence are used with people without a design background such as management. (PPF) The academic construction and theoretical reflections on how to interpret the designers.
 ‘Design Thinking’
 Simplifying the concept of design thinking into these two discourses helps to distinguish the different ways it is looked upon in society. It may also strengthen the case that there may be little use in trying to find a single definition or description of the practice (Johansson-Sk"oldberg, Woodilla and cCetinkaya, 2013) as it clearly shows that design thinking is more than just ‘one thing.’
  5. 5. Design thinking is proving to be an effective management tool allowing design to contribute to innovation and gives the management and companies the tools to deal with complex realities. 
 (Johansson-Sk"oldberg, Woodilla and cCetinkaya, 2013)
 Modern management through this approach is providing more empathy, emotion, perception and imagination when facing complex and difficult challenges, breaking down the ‘machine like’ structure of organisations and giving design a more prominent place. (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2012)
 Liedtka’s (2014) research indicates that design thinking is a problem solving process that can help any organisation; internally with communication, externally with engaging with customers and it helps with the innovation process of creating solutions to problems that they have had difficulty with before. WHAT IS DESIGNTHINKINGTODAY?
 DESIGN THINKING HAS BECOME MORE THAN A ‘DESIGN TOOL’ BUT IS ALSO A PROBLEM SOLVING TOOL AND A WAY TO PROVIDE NEW KNOWLEDGE TO COMPANIES AND INDIVIDUALS. Tim Brown introduced the concept of design thinking to a wider audience by introducing the IDEO’s design practice, process and methodology and suggests that ‘everyone can do it’ by following the steps. This opens the design thinking process to ‘anyone’ and “present(s) the concept as an answer to ! DESIGNTHINKING IN MANAGEMENT to challenges facing organisations wanting to innovate but also societies grappling with complex public issues” (Kimbell 2011, pp294)
 A major criticism of IDEO’s work is the lack of wide research that the book is based on, with “no published theoretical framework” (Johansson-Sk"oldberg, Woodilla and cCetinkaya, 2013. p127) Despite this, the work is gaining acceptance among organisations, designers and government bodies. ! ATOOL FOR ‘EVERYONE’
 WHERE DOES DESIGN THINKING “FIT” WITH BUSINESS AND INNOVATION STUDIES? IS THERE AN UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IS CAN ACCOMPLISH? A CHANGE OF MIND-SET? DESIGNTHINKING AND INNOVATION As innovation can be defined as a process, (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2011) argues that there is now a clear overlap with innovation and design. They believe that design and design thinking should play a central role within it. However instead, “design is either treated in passing or, more often, is entirely overlooked,” (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2011 pp7) with design “largely absent from theory, teaching textbooks and research.” (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2011. p5) It seems to be difficult to identify why innovation studies don’t have a focus on the design aspect. It is suggested that innovation studies have focused on modelling what could be more easily measured. (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2011) If design thinking needs to be defined and understood more clearly, its important that those within the innovation studies field have a clear view of the concept, its capabilities and an understanding how to use the tools within the process. If there was an “innovation perspective on design, and a design perspective on innovation, both fields stand to gain” (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2011. p5). It is well documented that our brain is divided into two hemispheres, the left side logical / analytical verses the right side, creative and imaginative. It can be argued that modern management and education fields have evolved strongly with the logical and decisive emphasis, although design thinking allows those within these fields to be challenged and introduce the creativity, emotion and imagination into their knowledge and practice. (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2012) One question that needs to be asked, however, is whether everyone is willing to change their mindset as other factors (such as cultures, habits, thoughts, values) will come into place that are unique to each person.
  7. 7. SO WHAT’S WRONG? CAN ANYONE USE DESIGN THINKING? Although Brown’s framework of design thinking has caused a growing interest in the concept, a serious weakness is the possibility of a less capable, less experienced and less skilful designer who doesn’t understand the process or methodology meeting problems that they can not overcome. The ‘designer’ may become tangled in ‘wicked problems’ – a “knotted clusters of interdependent problems or challenges, occurring under conditions of uncertainty and having multiple potential solutions.” 
 (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2012. p19) ISTHE ‘BUZZ’ DAMAGINGTHE POSSIBILITIES? Stewart (2011) believes that design thinking has become a buzzword within the business world for the strategic potential has towards management and business innovation and notes how this change has effected the design community. There is concern that this representation of a ‘fad’ damages the real opportunity to explore the possibilities that design thinking could have on different sectors. The capabilities of the engineers, designers, and workforce needs to be considered including; their experience, influence and knowledge on a subject field, as the problem will be “more” or “less” wicked depending on their capabilities. 
 (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2012) This is especially important in the corporate world that we live in. It may be questioned if management in-fact have the capability to put each design principle in place with restrictions of client deadlines and timeframes, knowledge of briefs from the beginning, freedom to work as needed and a true knowledge of the design tools to implement the needed change.
 WHAT IS THE VISION AND WHAT CAN IMPROVE? The question if design thinking needs to be defined or not is debated within academic journals and there are strong arguments for both sides. I feel there are ways that education, innovation fields, management and design thinking can work stronger together to cause a change and strengthen the overall view. With a wider acceptance of design, the innovation field could add its knowledge to help the design field to study and gain a better understanding of wicked problems and identify what needs to be improved. (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2011) I feel there is a broad approach towards the methods of how design thinking is taught in education, depending on your field. This may be due to a narrow limited approach with little creativity, but if design thinking is to be used in across the managerial, innovative, business and design fields there should be a similar understanding to help communication and collaboration. 
 (Hobday, Boddington and Grantham, 2012) As design is now a recognised field of research that is supported by national funding agencies, its important that design educators stay in touch with design researchers to ensure a better understanding and knowledge base can be built up for what is involved in design. (Dym et al., 2005)
  9. 9. MY EXPERIENCE As a designer with several years experience in the field and through my experience on this masters course at Hyper Island, I’ve found that there are many unforeseen conditions within each client brief. Experience has shown that people of mixed abilities are able to use the design thinking tools that Brown (2009) has set out, although I question if they can be put to best practice to gain the best possible outcome, if there’s a lack of understanding or knowledge in place. With design thinking becoming widely used there is a curiosity and a ‘want’ for the term to be better defined. It’s not surprising that those within the public and business sectors have problems understanding it, as its questionable if designers fully do. Design thinking may be just a different name for what good designers have always done. (Kimbell 2011) I have been introduced to the concept of design thinking and the tools of it while studying my masters degree at Hyper Island and most of it has been new theory. However, I sometimes found that tools and approaches that are used within this concept where ‘standard’ within my daily routine as a designer. I have been analysing and learning the design thinking concept while working on client briefs, within a team who holds a diverse skill-set. It was only through experience that we learn’t ‘how’ to use the tools and ‘when’ to put each into practice. At the start of the process our inexperience of the concept was obvious with disorganisation and confusion, which lead to difficult group dynamics and decision making techniques. As we became more confident with the tools, we were able to introduce more creativity, structure, emotion and imagination. This allowed us to overcome challenges, work more effectively and become motivated. I’ve learnt the importance of knowing when to put a tool into use. After developing our ideas we created prototypes to gain feedback from members of the public. I found this an extremely useful tool to gain an insight and it allowed us to analyse, iterate and change our concept for customer needs at a sooner stage. If companies where to implement this tool they would be able to test their concepts with real customers instead of presenting to the management hierarchy; this could lead to better end results and products and satisfaction within the team. I’ve experienced the effect that design thinking can have on a designers process of problem solving, using it as a base to gain more knowledge and insights and the affect it can have on group dynamics and team moral. This has all been a positive perspective of the concept although its still important to note that this all happened once we became familiar with the tools. A team with inexperience and a misunderstanding of the concept would most likely lead to different results.
  10. 10. CONCLUSION I believe I have been able to illustrate that design thinking is a complex area and have shown that it can’t be defined within one term as its not just ‘one thing.’ It is used across different sectors for may purposes as a problem solving tool, a way to gain knowledge, for business dynamics and team work and recently as a management tool. It may be argued that a definition for design thinking isn't needed (for now), as the current misunderstanding and confusion of the term will lead to a more research within the design field. I agree that a deeper knowledge, showing the effects of design and culture changes within a company, is necessary, although for this to happen there needs to be more collaboration between the innovation fields, design fields and researchers to see what they can learn from each other. Design thinking has been presented as; a way for management within a firm to become more creative or can described as a ‘toolbox’ ready for use, however, such explanations tend to overlook the fact that ‘creativity’ is only one part of a designers job and it assumes that the person who is going to use these tools have the skill, knowledge and training to put them to use. (Johansson-Sk"oldberg, Woodilla and cCetinkaya, 2013) The problem that design thinking faces by becoming commercialised and looked upon as an answer to many problems is the possibility that its value has been diluted. It’s clear that the concept is becoming highly recognised and accepted among designers, organisations and government bodies, mainly due to Brown’s publications of IDEO’s practices although Kimbell (2011) indicates that some of the industry observers are beginning to question whether it has become a failed experiment. In my opinion, for design thinking to develop and maintain a strong position within the field and not to be a modern day fad or buzz word, there needs to be an agreed approach on how students and organisations are taught the concept. If a closer collaboration is needed between academia and industry to develop the concept then everyone needs to have a similar understanding of what it can achieve and how to use the tools.
  11. 11. REFERENCES Journals Dym, C., Agogino, A., Eris, O., Frey, D. and Leifer, L. (2005). Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), pp.103–120. Hobday, M., Boddington, A. and Grantham, A. (2011). An innovation perspective on design: Part 1. Design Issues, 27(4), pp.5–15. Hobday, M., Boddington, A. and Grantham, A. (2012). An Innovation Perspective on Design: Part 2. Design Issues, 28(1), pp.18–29. Johansson-Sk"oldberg, U., Woodilla, J. and cCetinkaya, M. (2013). Design thinking: past, present and possible futures. Creativity and Innovation Management, 22(2), pp.121--146. Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: Part I. Design and Culture, 3(3), pp.285–306. Liedtka, J. (2014). Innovative ways companies are using design thinking. Strategy & Leadership, 42(2), pp.40--45. Editorial
 Stewart, S (2011) Editorial, Interpreting Design Thinking. Design Studies 32 (2011) pp. 515-520 Books
 Brown, T. and Kātz, B. (2009). Change by design. 1st ed. New York: Harper Business. ! ! ! !