Design thinking has joined the business world's vernacular by stealth. Introduced through the teaching of IDEO's David Kelley who founded Stanford's d school, today it is reshaping the way business is taught all over the world.
So how has the practice of design had such an impact on the way we now do business, and why should we all be taking notice?
"Many years ago I watched a professor of business on television and the interviewer asked him the secret behind a successful business", remarks Casper Vissers, former CEO and the cofounder of Dutch design brand Moooi.
"He said: 'Generally speaking we have two types of professional behaviour. People who think a lot and never do and people who do a lot and never think'. His advice was to do both and you will have a good chance to succeed. This statement is very true but probably needs a third layer. You should think, do and create some turbulence for attention. How many people are sleeping in a plane with heavy turbulence?”
Design is not only about creating physical things, thinking like a designer can transform the way a business works and it is at the core of some of the world's most successful companies. Dutch furniture house Moooi is well known for its successful balance of design brain - Marcel Wanders - and business brain - Casper Vissers - the magic mix that has created a brand followed by others.
For companies like Moooi, design thinking is a natural way of working. In the case of Moooi, it was the unlikely partnership that produced just the right kind of tension and creativity between business thinking and design methodology. That was back in 2001 before the term 'design thinking' became the mantra of a new generation of start-ups.
Fast forward to 2016 and business schools aroundthe world are now reinventing the way they teach by developing immersive cross-disciplinary programs that blend business innovation with the methodology of design. Attracting some of the brightest collaborators and keenest students, universities are establishing design thinking programs that connect through one common thread – shared values.
Stanford University’s d.school was one of the first institutions to define this space and break away from the traditions of silo teaching. In the process it has created a hub for innovators across the disciplines of engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education, with the aim to tackle the world’s messy problems holistically.
Here, learning takes place through actions, students start in the field uncovering real human needs to address. The Gates Foundation, General Electric, the City of Palo Alto, Motorola and Google, are just some of the companies that have collaborated in the program establishing an immersive platform for students, researchers and industry.
Outside the Stanford campus, d.school founder David Kelley, an industrial designer by training, has also established the hugely successful design group IDEO, now a global studio where design thinking is applied to all projects, including the group’s own foundation for teaching.
From a new food movement in China and a future kitchen for Ikea, to designing a new voting system for Los Angeles and helping a digital healthcare start-up to scale up, the success of IDEO says everything about the human-centred methodology of design thinking and its growing impact on the world.
One of the most astute cultural commentators and a senior curator of design at MoMA, Paola Antonelli, summed up the need for this kind of turbulence at the interactive conference SXSW perfectly: “It used to be that design was considered form follows function, problem solving, it was all about giving a solution to a problem at hand. But in truth, some of the best designers today are able to frame new questions and to frame new problems between art and design, between science and design and between technology and design. I believe this will not only be the future of design, but of humanity in general.”