design thinking in business A brief introduction

Keith F Kendrick

As with bicycle riding, design thinking is something that ultimately needs to be learned through experience.

The initial design thinking learning experience is usually a 'hands-on' workshop.

a Stanford workshop in progress ...

This glideshow is intended to provide you with a basic understanding of design thinking and it's potential value in business - so you can decide if you (and possibly your team) might like to participate in a workshop.

note: design thinking in business refers here to design thinking that happens within a business organization, not at the interface with customers ... the use of design thinking when creating things for external customers is absolutely important, it's just not the topic of this glideshow


the content here was motivated by 3 questions:

  • what is design thinking?
  • when is it relevant in business?
  • what does it look like in practice?

what is design thinking?

in very general terms:

  • human-centered design is creating things, and
  • design thinking is a collection of ideas about how to do that creating

in slightly greater detail:

  • human-centered design is the creation of things that improve people's lives, and
  • design thinking is a collection of ideas about how to efficiently, effectively, and reliably create such things

here’s a brief story of human-centered design and design thinking in action ...

please watch the clip before proceeding!

the re-designed pediatric MRI experience

design thinking was the way Doug Dietz and his team thought about understanding the problem and developing a solution

human-centered design was how they went about creating a solution

as David Kelley indicated in his talk, the solution that Doug and his team developed not only helped the kids and their parents have a much less stressful experience while going through a very difficult time, it also helped the hospital administration by enabling them to create more business value from the imaging center ... not mentioned in the video clip, but undoubtedly true - the re-designed experience helped the technicians, nurses, and doctors do their jobs more efficiently and effectively


a traditional way to think about the relationship between thinking and doing is that thinking informs doing ... in this case, design thinking informs human-centered design

as you'll see below, in design thinking, doing can also inform and improve thinking ... so, the design thinking value proposition in business will get even more rich as we do more of it!

another way to describe the relationship between design thinking and human-centered design is ...

design thinking is the intellectual foundation of human-centered design

ok ... design thinking seems interesting and useful in some situations, but ...

when is design thinking relevant in business?

the short answer ... anytime you are creating something that people in the organization will use or interact with

of course that applies to things like computer applications and systems, but it also applies to things like:

  • organizational culture and engagement
  • meeting effectiveness
  • workplace design
  • organizational structure
  • policies, strategies, goals (individual, team, department, organization)
  • communication strategy and effectiveness (individual, team, department, organization)
  • etc.

design thinking is useful for reducing or minimizing friction at human:human and human:technology interfaces throughout a business organization ... and there lots of those interfaces in most companies!


recommended related video: the importance of reducing friction at human-technology interfaces is very nicely presented by Shyam Sankar in this 2012 TED Global talk:

in the final section of this introduction to design thinking in business, let’s investigate a bit more deeply ... what are some of the details? ... some of the individual ideas that collectively make up design thinking? ... and how are they put to use?

what does design thinking look like in practice?

one of the most fundamental ideas in design thinking is:

use process in order to enhance creative productivity

The process should have sequential phases that involve:

  • learning about the issue or problem at hand - especially about the people involved
  • choosing a meaningful and actionable part of the problem to focus on
  • generating solution ideas
  • developing a valuable solution through iterative prototyping

this short video describes a general process for using design thinking to solve a problem ...

the actual process you use will vary from situation to situation, because constraints vary ... and, you will almost certainly have to make adjustments to the design of the process as you are using it ... but, it's a good idea to use a process, and it's a good idea to start with one that is modeled on the ideas shared in the above video

brief recap ... and suggested next steps

design thinking in business

a collection of ideas about how to efficiently, effectively, and reliably create business value for individuals, teams, departments, and the enterprise by solving problems and making improvements throughout the organization

some elements of design thinking:

  • use process to enhance creative productivity
  • assemble diverse problem-solving teams
  • when learning about the issue/problem/opportunity, observe without analysis at first
  • develop the ability to generate lots of information quickly and then quickly focus on a small, important subset
  • when brainstorming solution ideas, generate LOTS of them - especially ones that at first seem wild and crazy
  • make ideas tangible whenever possible
  • develop solutions through small prototyping iterations
  • learn early and often from the people who will use your solutions


another recommended related video: although not directly about design thinking, there is a lot of resonance in this lovely and important 2013 TED Global talk by Neuroscientist and amateur improv actor Uri Alon:


suggested next step ...

a workshop! ... please feel free to contact me if you'd like help finding an opportunity ... also, please tell me if you know of good design thinking workshops

Created By
Keith Kendrick

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