The Devaluation and Revaluation of Design in Business:
The Fast Food Frenzy of Design Thinking
By Heather Fraser
Design Thinking is not new, and it wasn’t invented in the last 2 decades by design firms. The real pioneers in practice and theory explored the topic deeply decades ago, with Herbert Simon’s 1969 book on The Science of the Artificial, Robert McKim’s 1973 book on Experiences in Visual Thinking, and Brain Lawson’s 1980 book on How Designers Think. From a business standpoint, Design Thinking has also historically been an inherent practice in many highly successful enterprises in their formative days.
Design Thinking in its current application and popular press, became resurgent as many large and successful companies found themselves trapped in their own success. While they may have started out with clear purpose, insight, imagination, and closeness to the customer, as they scaled and grew their operations to compete in a global marketplace, they developed systems and structures which allowed them to deliver on their vision and “make the numbers”. It also made it near impossible for them to stay innovative and competitive.
Given the climate of an accelerated force of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity inherent in today’s business world), business leaders’ need for instant gratification and silver bullets, simplified play-books and quick-hit boot camps on Design Thinking have become the panacea to unlock new value; worst yet — the ‘fast food of innovation.’ Millions of dollars are being spent on ‘Design Lite’ training and propagation. Like fast food, it may satisfy an initial hunger in the short term, but it isn’t always ‘healthy’ as a sustainable diet in the long term, and it doesn’t bring about the systemic change in mindsets, systems, policies, and governance structures required by companies to remain competitive and sustain productive innovation.
True Business Design requires depth, strategic purpose, analytical rigour, and a deep understanding of the marketplace and customers. Design Thinking, in the deeper sense, is most valuable when it is inextricably integrated and balanced with good business thinking, analysis, and execution. This means Design needs to be more than an opportunistic tactic, but a framework for redefining the strategic trajectory of the enterprise, and carried through to the design of enterprise models, structures and management systems. All of these require a deep understanding of people, exploratory and iterative prototyping and systems thinking. Design needs to be woven into the fabric of decision-making and culture of the organization, not outsourced. It is an all-pervasive way of thinking, doing, and being across the enterprise. Business transformation requires a commitment to a journey, discipline and rigour, and complete integration with business systems, processes, and practices.
Heather will offer insights on how Design can make the most of your human capital and shape an enterprise’s capacity to create, deliver and sustain new value to the marketplace, and thrive in the face of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that define modern global capitalism.