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What is ‘Design Thinking’?

‘Design Thinking’ is commonly interpreted as the methodology used to approach business problems the way designers approach design problems. But the word ‘design’ in ‘Design Thinking’ seems to get in the way of business owners taking it seriously.

Forget the title for a moment and open your mind to the possibilities this way of thinking brings to business. Not only can it lead to innovative products and services but it can also reinvigorate and reenergise an organisation’s culture—and who needs a title for that! This ‘thinking’ has a home at a school within Stanford University—d.school.

What I learned at d.school – Innovation…every day

The idea behind Stanford’s d.school methodology is that for innovation to happen, it must happen where the users are (i.e. you cannot think of new ideas in the R&D or Marketing departments of your organisation).

You have to get out of your office and go to where your end users are. For example, if you are designing a new system for faster processing of data, go to where this is done. Looking at the problem must have context, and this context is where the product or service is being used.

I was lucky enough to attend the d.school executive program where—along with 87 other executives—we immersed ourselves in the world of problem solving and innovative solutions.

To enable us to apply our learnings to a ‘real client’, jetBlue and their executives allowed us access to the San Francisco airport, their passengers, and their way of doing business.

Real solutions and innovation through ‘Design Thinking’

Some of the innovations that were presented to jetBlue included:

  • a family boarding pass that has all destinations, all family members flight details as well as itinerary on one ticket (instead of multiple)
  • a luggage trolley that doubles as a child pram to enable both to be wheeled around together through the airport and security
  • a ‘hand luggage’ concierge that enables you to check in your hand luggage at the gate to ensure it is above your seat during the flight—this means faster onloading and disembarking, plus gives freedom back to the passengers so they can utilise the airport’s facilities without dragging along a bag.

On top of the ideas, design thinking also brings energy and optimism to an organisation. The passion and energy, the power of team diversity, and the insights and learnings of seeing things from another perspective were the takeaways that can be brought back to our own country, organisations and teams.

Bringing it home—Poppy Cakes example

I knew that on returning to Australia, I would have to prove that the process worked in a business environment. So I decided I would create a new innovative product for Poppy Cakes.

I gave myself $0 budget and one week! The concept was based on my observations of the cake buying process. A cake/ cupcakes are ordered for special occasions such as birthdays.

On the day of the event, everyone rushes around buying the cake and other things that make up the party—plates, serviettes, cups, etc.

The concept I came up with was ‘Party in a Box’. The cakes and everything you need are in one box. Order, pick up, set up, celebrate, and at the end, all items are 100% recyclable so the tidy up bit is easy!

This concept went on to win the BRW Best Creative Business Idea! The bottom line is time and money isn’t a barrier to innovation. It doesn’t matter if your company is an SME or a large global organisation—’Design Thinking’ is scalable.

Summary

No matter what it’s called ‘Design Thinking’ is a process and framework to solve complicated business problems. It demonstrates the power of learning by doing, and creates energy and teamwork dynamics that cannot be achieved through endless meetings and writing of reports.

Which organisation (and business owner) doesn’t need some energy in the current challenging business conditions. So what are you waiting for? Make innovation part of your organisation’s every day.

I’d be interested to hear your experiences in applying ‘Design Thinking’ to solve business problems and drive innovation.

Further information:

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