Monday, September 28, 2009

Design Thinking: If I’m Missing Something, at Least I’m Not Alone

After re-reading Brown’s “Design Thinking” (DT) article, I had the feeling I was missing something. Is the idea that creativity in approaching consumer needs is a key to innovation really new? Does the concept warrant a distinct theory?

After some research, I’m relieved to learn there is heated debate about the model’s relevancy.

Brown states that DT uses design techniques to “match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible.” According to Business Week’s “Innovation Guru” Bruce Nussbaum (see link), naysayers of DT contend the process isn’t practical and forgoes doing what design entails for abstract talking about design ideas. Proponents say it’s about doing large-scale systems design with intangible but valuable results.

Brown and Nussbaum, both proponents, cite “hard” examples of DT success. Nussbaum discusses BofA’s “Keep the Change” program, where debit card purchases round up, the change deposited into savings; and an initiative to develop school curriculum around pop culture gaming. In these examples and Brown’s, the DT endorsement focuses on inclusion of designers in thorough market research.

Yea-sayers seem to simply be insisting designers have a seat at the table from minute one. Great idea. Design is central but is dependant on other aspects of sustainable innovation we’ve discussed. Without a careful plan considering competition, external forces, etc., what is there to design? In a DT vacuum, there’s danger of falling into the Beta trap. Your product might be perfectly suited for market needs but never reach the shelves.

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