Amid shifting landscapes and ever-evolving technologies, one constant drives innovation and impact – Design thinking. Putting the user at the heart of the solution, this set of strategic and cognitive practices creates fresh perspectives capable of achieving what matters most to customers and, when applied cross-operationally, can propel a business forward.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and complex, we face new challenges daily; from climate change to a global pandemic, recessions to hunger. We are in constant flux; whether you’re a business owner or beginning your career, launching a start-up, or simply adapting to an ever-changing plan, we all need to thrive in unprecedented change and uncertainty. Design thinking provides a tool to tackle these problems with a solution-focused, action-oriented and human-centred framework. As Albert Einstein said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Tim Brennan of Apple's Creative Services department drew a picture that illustrates design thinking: he drew a question mark to the left, an entangled line as a road map in the middle, and a dollar sign to the right to convey that questions can be converted into profits with design. Unlike many other problem-solving methodologies, design thinking is not problem-focused. This process draws upon reason, intuition, imagination, and systemic logic, to explore possibilities of what could be.

A design-driven mindset considers humans behind devices, users behind applications, and desired outcomes behind problems. The process starts with adeep empathic understanding and a set of strategic and cognitive practices focusing on what matters most to users. Rooted in motivation to create desired outcomes that benefit customers, empathy builds a deep understanding of what we design. One can design the way to operate, lead, create and innovate. As Roger Martin, author of The Design of Business and former Dean of Rotman School of Management, states, "Design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business… to create advances in both innovation and efficiency — the combination that produces the most powerful competitive edge."

Producing innovative solutions with design thinking

To remain competitive, organisations must innovate new approaches and techniques to stand out. Successful leaders of design-centric companies in the S&P 500 are aware of the Design Value Index results and the return on investment of design. These leaders know that they canleverage their business if they blend people’s desires with technologically and economically feasible solutions. Innovative thinking and design skills are most relevant at this intersection. 

Consider the design of one of the United States' most impressive urban spaces: Central Park in New York. In 1857, the country's first public landscape design competition was held to select the plan for this park. The fundamental challenge — allowing intercity vehicular traffic without disturbing the park's pastoral atmosphere — was deemed impossible by all the other participants in the competition. Of all the applications, only one — by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted — met all design requirements. Unlike other participants, Olmsted and Vaux applied design thinking to their problem-solving approach and dispelled the assumption that the park is two-dimensional. Instead, they imagined the park in three dimensions and submerged four roads 2.5 meters below its surface to create one of the world’s most iconic parks. Design thinking nurtures fresh perspectives that spark imaginative and unconventional solutions.  

Human-centred approach and empathy

The design thinking approach converts empathy-based, facilitated, and structured processes into actionable strategies. Think of Microsoft, one of the biggest companies in the world; wherever you go, you will see its logo — a reason why Bill Gates is one of the world’s wealthiest business magnates. Microsoft made computers user-friendly and affordable, thus allowing more people worldwide to work more efficiently. Moura Quayle, the author of Designed Leadership, asserts, "Great leaders aspire to manage by design, with a sense of purpose and foresight. When applied to management, lessons learned from the design world can turn leaders into collaborative, creative, deliberate, and accountable visionaries."

The world's most successful entrepreneurs understand the relationship between design thinking and impact. Impact, driven by innovation, requires a design mindset to empathise with users truly and properly define the problem to shape sustainable solutions. Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO, puts it, "It’s not ‘us versus them’ or even ‘us on behalf of them.’ For a design thinker, it has to be ‘us with them’."

Strategy, design and impact

Strategic design is the backbone of innovation. This mindset cultivates creativity with new ways of thinking about people, products, processes, business, leadership, and management so companies can adapt to rapid change. Applying design thinking principles to a business strategy’s foundation meets customer needs in a way that future-proofs businesses. 

Organisations of all sizes benefit greatly from embedding design thinking across operations. Embracing this problem-solving method requires trial and error and the guidance of trusted partners. The possibilities are endless with design thinking. 

About the author behind the article

Ogan Ozdogan is a senior leader in the IT industry with over 15 years of experience in sales, data management and consulting and he worked with large enterprises, government entities and senior executives and has an entrepreneurial spirit. Ela Unlucerci is a Strategy and Execution Analyst at Metyis, who has international experience in management consulting, financial analysis and organisational development.