Design Thinking is one of the more hyped (and frequently misunderstood) terms in business. Many companies have jumped on the Design Thinking bandwagon without really knowing what it means. The term is frequently trotted out to describe just about any organization — even organizations with a pretty superficial appreciation of Design.

design thinking

New idea.

Sometimes the Design Thinking term gets confused with its props and artifacts. It can be easy to assume that all an organization needs to “do” Design Thinking is an offsite, a whiteboard, and a stack of sticky note pads. As a result, Design Thinking has lost much of its meaning.

IDEO popularized the methodology of Design Thinking. Here’s how IDEO CEO Tim Brown defines it:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Underlying this methodology is an appreciation for Design as a discipline. As Tim describes in his classic HBR article:

“Historically, design has been treated as a downstream step in the development process—the point where designers, who have played no earlier role in the substantive work of innovation, come along and put a beautiful wrapper around the idea.

“Now, however, rather than asking designers to make an already developed idea more attractive to consumers, companies are asking them to create ideas that better meet consumers’ needs and desires. The former role is tactical, and results in limited value creation; the latter is strategic, and leads to dramatic new forms of value.”

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