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Design Thinking – Trick or Treat?

Design Thinking – Trick or Treat?

What is it?

According to Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Lets Take a Step Back First…

Design as a “way of thinking” in the sciences can be traced to Herbert A. Simon’s 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial, and in design engineering to Robert McKim’s 1973 book Experiences in Visual Thinking. Peter Rowe’s 1987 book Design Thinking, which described methods and approaches used by architects and urban planners, was a significant early usage of the term in the design research literature.

Rolf Faste expanded on McKim’s work at Stanford University in the 1980s and 1990s, teaching “design thinking as a method of creative action.” Design thinking was adapted for business purposes by Faste’s Stanford colleague David M. Kelley, who founded IDEO in 1991. Over the past 25 years, this practice has become most closely associated with the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (commonly known as the ‘’).

A Deeper Examination

According to Brown (HBR, 2008), traditionally designers were asked to make an already developed idea more attractive to consumers, however now companies are asking them to create ideas that better meet consumers’ needs and desires. The former role is tactical, and results in limited value creation; the latter is strategic, and leads to dramatic new forms of value.


The approach brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable (see figure below).

But I’m Not Creative!

Design thinking is a deeply human process that taps into abilities we all have but get overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. Design thinking relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional, and to express ourselves through means beyond words or symbols. Nobody wants to run an organization on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an over-reliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as risky. Design thinking provides an integrated third way. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.

“Thinking like a designer can transform the way organisations develop products, services, processes, and strategy.” – IDEO

Bringing Together the three ‘I’s’

Design thinking consists of three overlapping spaces: inspirationideation, and implementation. Inspiration is the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions. Ideation is the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas. Implementation is the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.

What About Results?

In assessing design thinking, it is clear that it is in fact a proven and repeatable problem solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve big results. By using both analytical tools and generative techniques, organisations can see how their new or existing operations could look in the future — and build road maps for getting there.

There are many examples of big companies that use design thinking in their day-to-day operations, like Apple and Google. However design thinking can and does work for all types of organizations, big and small. The result can be new,  innovative avenues for growth that are grounded in business viability and market desirability.

Where is it Today?

In the September 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review (Design Thinking Comes of Age), design thinking was described as a set of principles – empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure chief among them. The article went on to say:

“…is the best tool we have for creating those kinds of interactions and developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.” – HBR, Sept. 2015

The ‘Idea in Brief’ described in the same edition of HBR (below) highlights the critical role design thinking is now playing in many organisations.


So…Trick or Treat?

So based on my research, which included desk research (reading everything I could on the subject) and talking with many people in many industries, I formed the view (in my humble opinion) that design thinking is indeed a treat. It has proven itself to more than just a tool or even a process, but rather a way to manage and lead organisations.

Further Posts

I’ll be writing a series of posts centred around how design thinking can help organisations become more innovative, change ready, and agile.


Based on my conversations and research, I discovered a firm called ExperiencePoint – who in partnership with IDEO – offer innovative, challenging and fun workshops that teach design thinking in a very applied way by way of computer-based simulations that pack several months of ‘running a project or initiative’ in to a day.

The Leadership Sphere is now accredited to conduct these programs – ExperienceChange and ExperienceInnovation – with teams, managers or anyone interested in creating a high performing organisation through innovation, change and growth.

If would like to learn more about:

Work With Us

If you’re interested in learning more about these programs and how we may be able to work with you to achieve outstanding results, then you can call us on 1300 100 857 or email:

Design Thinking – Trick or Treat?