What’s Next For Design Thinking

In the approximately 8 years since I first began reading about design thinking, as a strategy for user-centered problem solving, I have probably seen an equal number of articles touting the glory of design thinking and those predicting its demise as an approach to thoughtful problem resolution. Neither side has quite gotten it right. Design thinking is no cure all for what ails society (thought IDEO has been exploring how design thinking can solve global problems) but it has certainly survived Nussbaum’s declaration that it was over. [NOTE – if you are new to design thinking click on “design thinking” in the category list to find and read any of the many prior posts on design thinking here at DBL]

Design thinking has never really caught on in the library community the way that user experience has, though I’ve always thought of these two as being connected. Done well, a user experience should be the result of a design process. Design thinking might help get it right. The IDEO Design Thinking toolkit for libraries might change that though. I was at a conference just recently where the theme was user experience, and the individual who gave the opening welcome surprised me by speaking to the importance of design thinking as an approach for developing thoughtful solutions to challenging problems. It was good to see design thinking getting a mention, but I suspect we will still rarely encounter design thinking workshops at library conferences.

Part of the problem is that the library community has yet to really figure out how to use design thinking. I would include myself among those who see value in design thinking but can be challenged to find good opportunities to put it to use. We get that it’s important to adopt a user-centered approach to planning library services and spaces, but it should be more than that. The attraction of design thinking is having a systematic approach to tackling a truly challenging problem. There are few case studies of librarians using design thinking to solve a wicked problem such as local (campus) scholarly communications reform or a dramatic decline in library gate count.

In his essay on the failings and end of design thinking Nussbaum asked “what’s next?”. For him the answer was creative intelligence. For others it was strategic design or perhaps the design approach. Several years after Nussbaum asked the question, it’s still being asked. Mark Payne is a cofounder of Fahrenheit and author of the new book “How to Kill a Unicorn”, and he argues that design thinking still falls short of what it needs to be. Unlike Nussbaum, Payne sees value in design thinking but believes that design needs strategy to help organizations succeed. He offers some examples of how some businesses are using design thinking in tandem with analytical thinking to achieve better solutions. What’s next for design thinking, according to Payne, is moving beyond user-center design to design that seeks balance between what the user needs and the organization can deliver.

Larry Keeler is an innovation expert who also suggests we need to enter a post-design thinking phase. In a long post titled “Beyond Design Thinking” Keeler explores territory similar to Payne: design thinking must be more than just design. He writes:

Design thinking without deep analysis and synthesis can be reckless. Leading companies are seeking to do both recursively and in integrated new ways to manage complexity, derive insights, and catalyze innovation in fast-changing ecosystems.

Keeler amplifies on this statement by reminding us that we must refrain from believing that design thinking alone will solve all of our problems. That’s not a particularly new piece of advice, but a good reminder that we all need multiple problem-solving tools in our box. Like Payne, Keeler advocates that design without analysis is reckless. So what does Keeler suggest should come next for design thinking? Not unlike Payne he sees a growing blend of design and analysis. He writes, “What works today is deep, informed analysis seamlessly synthesized into coherent, beautiful solutions.”

Payne and Keeler offer interesting visions for how design thinking needs to evolve. Both point to integrating a more analytical approach into the design. Whether some next-generation of design thinking will soon emerge is not yet clear. What seems to be happening now is some new exploration on what design thinking could be with a greater emphasis on analysis.

Wherever design thinking may be headed I would encourage library workers to follow the conversation and pay attention to the ways in which designers, innovators, educators and others are applying design thinking for everyday and complex problem solving. I think it’s great that so many more librarians are learning about user experience and wanting their community members to have a better library experience, but let’s not overlook design thinking as a tool that can help us figure out how to get there.

Experts Chime In On Design Thinking And Design

One of the questions often asked of design thinkers is how it differs from the practice of design itself. Based on a series of questions and answers with four leading design thinking experts, the answer seems to be that design thinking is a process for better understanding problems in order to achieve good solutions. It is more about thinking through a problem in a systematic way with the goal of arriving at a workable solution. Design, on the other hand, focuses on improving experiences in an intentional way. What else do these top thinkers have to say about design and design thinking?

DMI Review, a publication of the Design Management Institute, featured interviews with A.G. Lafley, CEO of Procter & Gamble, Don Norman, executive and educator, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, and Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, in its Summer 2013 issue. You can find the home page of this issue here but depending on your affiliation you may or may not be able to access them without a fee. You may also be able to find scans of some of the interviews with an Internet search (e.g., I came across the Martin Q&A). It’s rare to find all four of these experts sharing their insights together in the Q&A format, so this is a good find for those who want to learn more about design thinking.

Here are some highlights from the interviews:

Lafley: “Design thinking is about using your whole brain.” “Consumers usually cannot tell us what they want, but they can respond to stimuli. Through an iterative process that involved consumers with early stage concepts and product prototypes we got to be really good at designing better consumer experiences.”

Norman: “Design thinking is a process of determining the correct problem (as opposed to jumping to a solution). After the correct problem has been determined, then it is a process of working toward an acceptable solution.” “Anyone can do it with training and practice.”

Brown: “In business, design thinking can be described as an approach that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and with what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

Martin: “The fundamental principle is balance of opposing forces. Design thinking balances exploitation and exploration, reliability and validity, analysis and intuition, and declarative logic and modal logic.”

Each interview is fairly short so if you can get your hands on this article you’ll find, without a significant time investment, more than a few interesting insights into both design thinking and design.

L-Schools and I-Schools Should Take A Closer Look At D-Schools

According to the Wall Street Journal (watch the video) D-Schools are hot and B-Schools are not. The WSJ is acknowledging an important trendh within B-Schools that has been growing in popularity for a few years. While it’s true that a few forward thinking business schools, most notably the Rotman School of Business (U of Toronto) and the Weatherhead School (Case Western) have integrated design thinking into their curriculum, the vast majority of business schools are still offering the same traditional courses and career paths for their MBA students. Moving to a design thinking influenced curriculum makes good sense because more businesses are making use of design thinking and looking to hire those who can bring more of these skills to their companies. At my own institution, the Fox School of Business includes the Center for Design and Innovation, where the faculty are exploring the intersection of design and business, and exposing the newest MBA students to the design inquiry process, a variant on design thinking.

While the video does point out that some B-Schools are providing a mix of design thinking and business thinking, it emphasizes that D-Schools may be the new B-Schools. Students who may have opted for an MBA in the past now want to be designers – especially designers who work at companies like Apple, Google or Facebook. They want to mix their business knowledge with the problem solving methods used by designers. The Stanford D-School is probably the hottest D-School right now, and perhaps it’s no surprise that there are many connections between the school and IDEO. I have participated in several of the D-School’s one-hour webinars, and have learned some great things about design thinking from their faculty members.

It’s great that business schools are recognizing the value of design thinking – and that business people are recognizing the value of attending D-Schools. Perhaps now is the right time for L-Schools (Library) and I-Schools (Information) to take a closer look into this trend, and consider how to integrate design thinking into the curriculum that prepares future library professionals. I made this suggestion in a post a few years ago, and there was a mixed reaction – everything from “Who is he to tell us how to design our curriculum” to “Sounds like an interesting idea” to “I’m already doing this”. The lack of enthusiasm for my suggestion was likely owing to a lack of familiarity with design thinking. Courses on library instruction, human-computer interaction or usability studies may include some elements of design, but it would be completely different to integrate design thinking philosophy into the curriculum – so that every graduate has internalized the design inquiry process as a problem-solving methodology. As a result of that post, I was asked to participate in an ALISE conference panel focusing on design in the LIS curriculum – thanks to those faculty who were open to the possibilities. Clearly there is opportunity here. To my way of thinking, the first LIS program that successfully merges design thinking and library science will establish a distinct advantage in the field. As a starting point, take a closer look at how B-Schools are integrating design thinking into their curriculum and why they are doing it. Even better, make a visit to the Stanford D-School.

This post is not intended as a critique of our LIS programs. There are great programs turning out high quality graduates. I do think the LIS program that breaks new ground by integrating design thinking and philosophy into the curriculum will establish a real advantage over the programs that stay the course. We need LIS graduates with those traditional skills that prepare them for library work. We have a greater need for students who are savvy problem solvers. With the wicked problems confronting the library profession, we need colleagues who can design elegant solutions. Design thinking skills could help our future librarians be the kind of problem solvers and decision makers that can tackle any challenging no matter what area of librarianship is involved. That’s what design thinkers do – they figure out what the real problem is and design a solution. Perhaps some L-Schools and I-Schools will seriously look into the D-School trend, with an intent to use it as a model for future curriculum development. If the goal is to create better libraries, should’t it start with how we prepare future librarians? In the meantime, is it possible that more libraries will just start hiring D-School graduates? I think some already are or will do so soon.

A Manual For Design Thinkers

One of the knocks against design thinking is that it’s too much about thinking and too little about taking practical action – getting things done. I wrote about this reaction, which calls into question the value of design thinking, and suggested that we needed to focus more on the design approach as a practical method for putting our design thinking tools and techniques to work. In seeking out more ideas on how to accomplish this I acquired a copy of “Designing for Growth: A Design Toolkit for Managers.”. I believe the book has lived up to expectations. Of the numerous books and articles I’ve read about design thinking, this one is the best at providing a concrete approach to applying design thinking in your practice. Yet in many ways the book sticks to the blueprint for design thinking, albeit broken down into more steps with a variety of techniques organized into “ten tools”.

Let me give you an example. In the classic IDEO method, the first phase of the design thinking process is to be an empathic designer – to put yourself into the place of the end user of your service or product. As was famously said about designers in the Deep Dive video by David Kelley, “We not experts at anything. The only things we’re experts at is the design process.” The video then goes on to illustrate how designers go out into the field to study the existing experience and learn from the experts – those who either create or use the product or service. The second tool in the Toolkit is Journey Mapping. This is an exercise the design team conducts to create a graphic flowchart of the customer’s experience as he or she interacts with the products and services provided by the library. The whole point of Mapping is to deeply understand things from the point of view of the end user. What’s the first tool? That’s another thing I really liked; it’s visualization. The authors, right off the bat, emphasize the importance of visual communication throughout the design process. There’s a chapter dedicated to each of the ten tools, and the one on visualization even has some sketching tips.

Many of the steps, processes and tools discussed in the book really connect back to the basic fundamentals of design thinking. The difference is in the way the ideas, practices and techniques are organized around four phases of the design process: (1) What Is? (2) What If? (3) What Wows? (4) What Works. It’s interesting that steps one and two are all about discovering what the gap is between the problem and potential solution. Again, that’s classic design thinking. What Wows is all about prototyping, and What Works is about implementation and evaluation. It’s all there. That said, I see this book as being somewhat different from others on design thinking. Others, like The Art of Innovation or The Design of Business, are more like straight read throughs. This book really is more like a toolkit. You just use your hammer or screwdriver when you need it to get a job done; you don’t take out every tool in the box. Likewise, if I just want to invite our community members to work with us in developing a new service, I can just make use of the chapter on customer co-creation. It offers me the steps I need to follow to get this done successfully. While some may come away with the impression that the book is a bit on the busy side and that there are many possible distractions within the book, I tend to prefer the many sidebars used throughout the book. They may be a bit of a distraction on the first reading, but then you discover there’s lots of practical advice and ideas found within those sidebars.

If you want to get a taste of the book Designing for Growth, you may want to read an article based on the book, “Learning to use design thinking tools for successful innovation” that was authored by Jeanne Liedtka in the journal Strategy & Leadership (Vol. 39 No. 5, pgs. 13-19). It is behind a paywall, and your library may or may not provide access (NOTE: it can be “rented” for $3.99 via DeepDyve if that option works for you). When librarians ask me to provide more practical ideas for how they can implement design thinking in their libraries, I’m going to point them to Designing for Growth. I think the authors are on the right track when it comes to moving potential design thinkers from thinking to doing.

From Design Thinking to Design Process

Since writing this post focusing on Bruce Nussbaum’s essay about design thinking as a failed experiment I have come across other posts and articles referencing the essay and commenting one way or another on the state of design thinking. One in particular titled “The Short Happy Life of Design Thinking” authored by Damien Newman was published in the August 2011 issue of Print magazine (sorry but this article is not online), and though it’s a rather short piece I thought it did a good job of capturing the essence of the main critique of design thinking: design thinking doesn’t actually get the desired results. Newman writes:

And here lies the difficulty with the term “design thinking”: It didn’t offer an actual, repeatable process but rather defined how a designer should think, a kind of mind-set that would set in motion the process of design. Design thinking alone didn’t have the results that the simple process of design did…Organizations that bought into the concept of design thinking were not getting what they wanted, which was to produce better, more innovative results.

Newman then goes on to share the story of a new social change project called Common, described as a community for the rapid prototyping of social ventures. One of their ventures is Common Cycles. Newman’s point is that Common is an example of a post-design thinking organization that brings together experience, intuition, creativity and collaboration. Newman believes this is a good example of the transition from design thinking to design process. As I read Newman’s piece I was puzzled between the difference between design thinking and the design process; they seem quite similar in the components that define them. Then I had an experience with the design approach – which is similar to what Newman describes as the design process – and I now think I see how the design approach is similar to design thinking and perhaps is even based on the same principles – but which gives a more practical process for putting it to work on designing solutions.

Here’s what happened. About two weeks after writing the post about Nussbaum’s article I had a great experience in which I participated in a two-day design process workshop at Temple University. This is a development about which I’m quite excited. It is part of a larger effort to integrate more design approach-based education into our B-school curriculum. Most of the activity is coming out of our Center for Design and Innovationwhich is led by Youngjin Yoo, who was previously at the Weatherhead School of Mangement at Case Western University. I previously wrote a post about the book Managing as Designing, a book that evolved from a conference on design in business held at Weatherhead – and which contains a chapter authored by Youngjin Yoo (which I subsequently realized after writing the post). I’ve since had several conversations with faculty leading the effort at the CDI, and we recently collaborated by having our incoming MBA students conduct a design project (about wayfinding) here at the library. Back on June 16 and 17 I attended the Center’s Business is Design workshop, facilitated by Yoo and James Moustafellos, an architect, designer and entrepreneur (and also faculty at the B-school). I thought I knew a good amount about design thinking, which was discussed in the workshop, but I really learned even more about it, primarily the hands-on aspects of the design process.

Here are a few highlights of the workshop:

* Develop a design attitude as a process for innovation – the process should be an iterative one in which we should be asking ourselves “can we make this better?” and being deliberate about taking action to try to make it better. (an exercise using pieces of paper to simulate a design process and express the attitude)

* Technology is not always the path to innovation. Listening, observing and working in teams is another means to achieve innovation. Constraints such as time or resources move the process forward as they force us to be deliberate in our thinking. (a small group activity involving intense listening and shared observations)

* We use design to deliberately shape the behavior of the user (anecdotes about urinal design with the goal of keeping these areas cleaner). Great design can achieve far better results than text-based signs.

* Empower the organization to get everyone thinking and sharing ideas. Move from the old mainframe/dumb terminal paradigm to the personal computing paradigm where everyone is empowered (of course there is the struggle between innovation and control).

* Systemic experiences emerge from the design inquiry process – composed of five questions:
* What are the problems?
* Who are the stakeholders?
* Why are these needs/issues important?
* What are the solutions?
* What are the resources?

* Use the design approach to move from things to action. Move from nouns to verbs. A library is a thing. Transforming people is an action.

To reinforce many of these ideas the workshop challenged us with many design approach activities. I’m not going to provide those details for two reasons. First, this is already a long post that would become even longer, and second, I am hesitant to divulge too many details that would take away any of the surprise elements for those who may take this workshop in the future. I will say that the second day of the workshop revolves a major project that requires the participants to go through the design inquiry process in a very hands-on way. In a combination of field study – getting out to observe, listen, ask questions, record data, etc. – and team-based workshop exercises (e.g., creating personas, experience mapping, etc) the participants gained a great understanding of what it means to go through the design inquiry process.

When I registered for the workshop I thought it would simply reinforce what I already knew about design thinking. It did much more than that. It moved me from just seeing design as a way of thoughtfully developing solutions to a process in which we have to engage ourselves in a mental and physical way. This is why Damien Newman’s article resonated with me, which it may not have without the design workshop experience. Now I understand what he means when advocating for moving from “thinking” to “process”. I believe there is value in understanding design thinking as the way in which designers approach their work, but it is more powerful when we acknowledge that we also must engage in the design inquiry process when we want to produce the “better, more innovative results” that Newman describes. I plan to continue my involvement with the Center for Design and Innovation at Temple University because I believe there is much more yet to be learned about the design process. I would encourage you to seek out similar opportunities – and encourage your colleagues to join you.