Build a Design-Thinking-oriented culture

Design thinking is an innovation strategy that draws on a designer’s tools to formulate the perfect response to customer expectations. Although the concept – first popularized by Tim Brown, president of global design firm IDEO – has many critics, it is fast becoming a source of competitive advantage. Indeed, design thinking is gradually spreading to new areas, and is even penetrating the command centers of some organizations.

What do Apple, SAP and IBM have in common apart from their influence in new technologies? The answer may come as something of a surprise: design. Whereas this is understandable in the case of Apple, the same cannot be said of IBM, which manufactures few terminals nowadays, or SAP, which mainly produces management software. The explanation lies in a design agency created 25 years ago in Palo Alto: IDEO. The firm’s approach, known as design thinking, positions the customer experience at the center of strategic thinking. It is a method that has won over 3M, Nike and Coca-Cola. The boom in design thinking is linked to the paradigm shift in our economy towards customer experience, says Tim Brown, who promotes the notion in his book Change by Design. His argument in brief is that the customer is now the starting point for any discussion, well before talk turns to technology or markets.


Almost unheard of ten years ago, design thinking is now a hot topic for companies of all sizes. What principles lie at its core?

Design philosophy: innovation starts with the customer
Design thinking fi rst appeared in the 1990s as a way of developing an innovation approach centered on the customer rather than technology, and it is this shift in focus that sets design apart from more traditional propositions. For Brown, design thinking is structured around three stratagems that combine analytical and intuitive thinking:
• Co-creation: the departments in a design-driven company do not work in isolation; silos are connected to foster collective intelligence and cross-fertilization of expertise.
• Intellectual agility: alternating phases of intuition and analysis based on openness and cooperation with users.
• Particular importance is attached to fi eld research – especially ethnographic observation – in order to understand the customer experience (in contrast to conventional focus groups or quantitative studies).

Design practice: a combination of desirability, feasibility and viability
Design thinking meets three requirements, according to Brown: desirability (what makes sense for the consumer); feasibility (what is technically possible); and viability (what makes a profi table business project). This gives rise to a three-step process…

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Build a Design Thinking oriented culture


Based on inter alia: “Design Thinking Comes of Age” by Jon Kolko, Tim Brown, Roger Martin, Indra Nooyi and Adi Ignatius (Harvard Business Review, 2015) ; “Vers la mort du design thinking ?” by Jean-Pierre Léac (Les Cahiers de l’Innovation, 2015) ; “IBM’s Got a Plan to Bring Design Thinking to Big Business”, by Liz Stinson (Wired, 2016) and Design to Grow (Penguin, February 2015) by David Butler, vice president of l’innovation and entrepreneurship at The Coca-Cola Company.