Think about how every day poorly designed products and services add complexity instead of simplicity to our lives. The tortuously convoluted language used by the financial services industry, the non-intuitive features on electronic gadgets that most of us will never fathom, big call centres that tell you what they can’t do instead of what they can, antiquated recruitment practices that tick boxes instead of identifying talent and newspaper layouts that are cluttered with ads all fighting for attention like kids on a sugar rush! The universe may contain intelligent design but many products and services certainly do not!
The thing about great design is that we know it when we see it. The trouble is, we see way too little of it. Often the word design conjures up ideas of logos or web site but Design Thinking is essentially the ability to combine empathy, creativity and rationality to develop solutions based around a user’s needs. It can be applied to anything including businesses, brands, buildings, cities and even countries. Unlike analytical thinking, Design Thinking is a creative process based around the "building up" of ideas. There are no judgments early on in design thinking – and this eliminates fear of failure and encourages maximum participation and outside the box thinking.
To be successful Design Thinking must permeate the entire organization—and shape all of its interactions with all its constituents. Design Thinking is figuring out how do we create more value? How do we design better products? How do we build a better working environment that motivates our staff? How do we improve on our customer experiences? How do we make more money and create a more sustainable planet?
Design Thinking is a social and economic imperative. It has the power to change, enhance and enable the lives of its users and like The Beatles and The Beetle - can even change the world. As a discipline, design is seriously under appreciated and under leveraged in most organisations. Historically managers viewed design as a soft skill – an artistic endeavour that ‘creative types’ dipped into whenever they needed to jazz up a product or improve a graphic design. This is short sighted and self limiting thinking, given the fact that how a company presents itself externally is a manifestation of its internal thinking. At ThinkTank we believe that design thinking is far more than your company’s visual identity. It should be viewed instead as a fundamental business discipline that can create fanatical customers and fat, healthy margins – while at the same time being sustainable and socially responsible.
In an Irish context design seems to be considered a luxury, rather than a fundamental and it’s often challenging to convince clients that good design should be viewed as an investment and not a cost. In our industry a shift is occurring where the creative skills used to develop branding campaigns are now being applied to develop new products by partnering within company’s that have become constrained by their own thinking. The 2009 Forfás report on “Skills in Creativity Design and Innovation,” makes the point that “creativity and design are key drivers of innovation, which is in turn a key driver of productivity growth”. Beyond the feel good story of Ireland being a Smart Economy we need to focus more on the how part of innovation: developing the skills and principles of human-centred design, instead of getting caught up in all the talk about innovation. After all it’s the creative horse that will ultimately need to pull Ireland’s innovation cart on the road to recovery.
A well designed product is always the most powerful brand building marketing and sales tool. Smart companies understand how to bake their marketing right into the design of the product from the get go. Good design is ultimately a business weapon as it drives value all the way down to the end user. Buying anything is emotional, and great design connects and allures those emotions to our fullest realization.
Slowly big companies are waking up to the power of bringing creativity in house and using design as a premium differentiator. Several global brands have appointed creative Design Thinkers to board level positions in an effort to drive creativity from the inside out. Coke recently appointed leading designer David Butler to oversee an enterprise wide design overhaul across its 450 brands and Nike’s new CEO Mark Parker, is an ex- sports shoe designer who brings heaps of design DNA and a knack for tapping into the thinking of both athletes and artists.
Good design is by nature innovative but also profitable. It starts with observation because it’s the only way to illuminate the subtle nuances about how people actually get things done (or don’t get things done) Observations can unlock deep insights that lead to powerful new ideas which can be experimented with and later prototyped. The latest EU research adds fuel to the argument. The document “Design as a Driver of User-Centred Innovation” (2009) notes: “The results are compelling: companies that invest in design tend to be more innovative, more profitable and grow faster than those who do not.” By ‘building to think’ instead of ‘thinking about what to build,’ an organisation can dramatically accelerate its pace of innovation and create new profit opportunities.
So in a world ruled by sameness let’s revisit legendary designer Dieter Ram's top 10 principles for good design:
- Good design is innovative
- Good design makes a product useful
- Good design is aesthetic
- Good design makes a product understandable
- Good design is unobtrusive
- Good design is honest
- Good design is long lasting
- Good design is thorough, down to the last detail
- Good design is environmentally friendly
- Good design is as little design as possible
Photo courtesy of the Lewis Glucksman Gallery - a Cork based cultural and educational institution that promotes the research, creation and exploration of the visual arts.