In the Digital Pulse ‘Uncovered’ series, we explore key industry terms and buzzwords.

In this edition we look at how design thinking has emerged from a practical application for product development into a valuable methodology for modern businesses.

“Humans did not discover fire — they designed it.”
Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman

What is design thinking?

There are many different views, theses and stories that invite us to discuss and review the descriptions of what design thinking is, why it exists and how to execute it.

Essentially however, design thinking is a problem solving methodology that requires a human-centered mindset. It has existed in some shape or form since the beginning of the industrial revolution – or even, you could say, the beginning of our existence.

It was born to make the world around us useful, delightful and scalable, to combine a craftsman’s art with mass production technology, to bring meaning and purpose to the life created around us, balancing form and function.

The evolution of design thinking

Design thinking comes from the process of designing, which is applied to all the products we interact with.

When designing a new product or service, you need a clear idea of what the problem is that you are trying to solve. You then need to test your assumptions to validate if you really are solving that particular problem.

In the last few decades, design thinking has migrated from a methodology used specifically to design products, including 3D (consumer goods), 2D (print and graphics) and digital (multimedia, software), to allowing organisations to reimagine how to add value to their customers.

Applying design thinking to business

The mindset that comes from design entails qualities that are required in order to thrive and innovate in our current environmental conditions. It helps organisations put themselves in the shoes of their customers in order to come up with new ideas.

One example of this is the evolution of the payment process. Transactions used to entail a few interactions in which you open your wallet and use your credit card. Now, a payment can happen with no action required, such as when using Uber.

Breakthrough innovations often come by taking the problems experienced by many and solving them in a new way.

Think of the iPod: it provides a way to listen to music – something we have being doing for centuries. But its popularity stems from how it has been designed with the human in mind, responding to our preferences to create a new, more convenient and delightful experience.

What do we gain from design thinking?

The key to thinking ‘design’ is by being human centered.

This differs from the traditional business mindset, which comes from a legacy of quality, efficiency, cost reduction, and profit maximisation – all through a lens of the enterprise.

That mindset was disrupted when the consumer gained access to unprecedented amounts of information, was faced with thousands of other purchase options, and adopted higher expectations.

Design thinking helps to bring that new paradigm to the forefront of a business’ attention, switching the focus from the business and the product to the user and their needs.

The other gain from using design thinking is that it utilises the concept of low cost prototyping – taking its cue from the way a product designer might make paper models to test designs.

Some people perceive design thinking as a luxury, something that costs time and a lot of resources but, when executed correctly, it can actually be a great way to test ideas significantly faster and cheaper than current models, which may require long market research, development of business plans and long launching strategies.

Design thinking alone is not ideal; it was not developed with a strong financial brain. As Kate Eriksson mentions in her article Innovation, Design Thinking and Agile: Three trends walk into a bar…, there are some areas it is not adequate in addressing, in which case we strengthen the process with further frameworks.

Suggested further reading

The Designful Company: How to Build a Culture of Nonstop Innovation by Marty Neumeier
Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger Martin.



Marina Paronetto

Marina Paronetto works in PwC’s digital team as senior innovation manager.

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