By: Abhijit Panigrahi

Design Thinking Is Not A Magic Baton

Disruptive technologies, changing customer behaviour and shifting economic and political winds have led to complex challenges requiring innovative, nimble solutions that are not business-as-usual. To discover these new opportunities and reshape towards digital transformation, many companies have turned away from traditional analytical thinking towards design thinking, a method that does not immediately consider a solution upfront, but examines both present and future conditions and parameters of the problem, ultimately exploring alternative solutions.

For the past century, analytical thinking has helped solve the complicated problems that arose from the Industrial Revolution. These challenges were predictable, linear and well defined, typically arising over a long period of time. On the other hand, today’s quick-shifting world of digital is rife with complexities that are unpredictable, non-linear, chaotic, ill-defined and with short timeframes. This requires a vastly different approach.

Design thinking may be powerful, but even businesses that implement it still fail at transformation. That’s because, as many businesses have discovered, design thinking isn’t a magic baton that makes enterprise-wide transformation succeed. “When businesses are confronted by diverse challenges with multiple possible solutions, design thinking can be immensely helpful. It can define the right problem to solve, and offer a wider range of potential solutions that meet user needs and encourage adoption.”

Design thinking needs to be deployed by experienced hands to ensure that the user perspective is considered from the very beginning. That’s where the right framework comes in, with a methodology to help solve complex problems across the enterprise. 

“The good news is, you don’t have to be a designer to think like one,”. “Design thinking is not about visual design; rather it’s about user experience design. It starts with identifying areas for innovation and generating fresh ideas.”

Fundamentally, design thinking means designing an experience that ensures effective human interaction with a product or service — a good user experience will meet or exceed the expressed needs of the user. “It’s vital to create a seamless merging between digital and physical processes, as well as cohesive follow-through and support,” 

But if transformation is as simple as implementing a design thinking approach, why aren’t more businesses reporting success? One thorny challenge is that businesses fail in design thinking when they view problems through the wrong lens. This might be organizational, technological or data driven.

“Instead, they need to adapt to a more unfamiliar mindset that starts with empathy for the user and combines those insights with what’s technologically feasible and economically viable,”. “It’s people and their experiences that drive business change.” 

All too often, however, businesses rely on data as the key input, believing that a problem lies with a piece of equipment, system or process, without thinking about who is operating, managing and using those systems.

With a human-centered approach, businesses can minimize the uncertainty and risk that innovation often brings:

“Design thinking is just a buzzword unless it’s used as a way of focusing on the right problem first and delivering meaningful, highly-functional solutions supported by traditional business metrics.”

Another reason business transformation can fail is because different parts of an organization don’t work together cohesively. It takes strong collaboration to identify the cause of a problem and develop a successful solution. With contradictory motivations and agendas at play, this can sometimes prove to be impossible. Design thinking, eradicates this problem by providing everyone involved with a shared framework through which to communicate: “With a common language and business goal, design and technology requirements can be aligned much more easily.”

Today’s business environment is rapidly changing, with a variety of new competitive forces coming from all sides. Even business models themselves are being upended. The digital world that customers, employees and companies inhabit today requires radical changes in the world of business, so that innovation can thrive.

That is where design thinking comes in: It has become a fundamental tool that, if implemented within the right framework, with the right hands on deck, through the right lens, can offer powerful transformational opportunities for the entire corporate culture to leverage. In the ever-evolving age of the powerful customer, these efforts must be a top priority.