Design Thinking Gets Serious about ROI


Design Thinking (DT) has received quite a bit of press in mainstream business publications over the last couple of years. The narrative, for the most part, has been very positive. Conversely, there has been a number of pragmatic attempts to temper some of the wide-eyed optimism by discussing the importance of results-driven DT. In a previous article I referred to ROI as the elephant in the room. As design thinking and service design begins to gain traction amongst the C-Suite, there has been, and will continue to be, a renewed focus on metrics. For all the anecdotal success stores and “soft benefits”, metrics are the “hard” currency of the board room. At the 2013 Global Service Design Conference, Lee Sankey, Director of Design at Barclays, asked “Is Service Design more in love with process than outcomes?”. This was not meant as a criticism of service design. Rather, it was delivered as a challenge to service designers. Do they wish to be defined by service design outcomes or the service design process? 

Of course, talk of results-based DT is not entirely new. The Strategic Decision Group (SDG) at Stanford have demonstrated how analytical tools such as tornado charts can be used to quantify the value of design. However,  the renewed focus on DT outcomes is a welcome development as it signals DT's move from niche to mainstream. Dr. Susan Weinschenk of Human Factors International has discussed the ROI of User Experience and the Design Council have also done great work in discussing the impact evaluation of service design efforts.  

I recently attended a presentation by Justin Ferrell of Stanford's famed Though  the has traditionally eschewed research in favour of practice, Justin mentioned that the have recently begun to look for empirical evidence for the success of DT. Ironically, nobody asked them to do this before became wildly successful. I suppose it was inevitable given the growth of DT and the burgeoning cottage industry that has sprung up around it. 

Creative Confidence and Design Thinking for Introverts

I've been teaching design thinking methods to university students since 2010. Consequently, I've had a little time to reflect about what works and what doesn't. One of the first thing that jumps to mind is that students are often reluctant to dive in to design thinking methods.  Despite what many practitioners of DT may say, collaboration and group brainstorming are not normal behaviours for many. It can force one to challenge deeply held beliefs about how one thinks and makes decisions. As a result, there is often a temptation to fall back on traditional analytical thinking approaches i.e. doing what is comfortable. Sometimes I will see students attempt to solve problems and then reverse engineer it to make it look that they applied a Design Thinking approach. Some students even go to the trouble of staging photographs of brainstorming sessions! This is not because the techniques don't work, it's because the tools are so challenging to what we know and hold dear! DT requires a certain confidence in our own creative capabilities and also requires us to exhibit a playfulness and extroversion that may be unsettling at first.

I think there are two main issues here. Firstly, some people are introverted and find group collaboration, of the kind advocated by design thinking, deeply uncomfortable. The second issue, is that people are often simply embarrassed to attempt to do something creative, having been discouraged from such behaviours in school and at work. 

The d.Schools Fellow Margaret Hagan has created a great infographic dealing with "Design for Introverts" which illustrates a few ground rules for engaging introverts in the design process, while David and Tom Kelley's brilliant book Creative Confidence should also be required reading for anybody who questions their ability to innovate.  Most of us have lost the playfulness and creative abilities that we were born with. David and Tom's book show us how to gain it back. 

by Andrew Pope


Image Courtesy of Margaret Hagan @ d.School

Image Courtesy of Margaret Hagan @ d.School

Towards a Design-Led IBM

IBM becomes the latest company to embrace design thinking in an effort to further bolster their efforts to become a design-led company. As a stalwart of innovation, and early practitioner of "Innovation Jams", IBM's investment in design thinking is a massive endorsement of the effectiveness of design thinking. 


UK's First Interactive Virtual Grocery Store

The era of the 'Meta Product" (web-enabled product-service networks as typified by products such as iPhone/iTunes and Nike +) is well and truly upon us. Future services will be delivered using a combination of physical and virtual touchpoints. Tesco, following a successful pilot programme with Homeplus in South Korea, has finally brought their virtual shopping experience to the UK. The first UK trial is being launched in the North Terminal of Gatwick airport. Customers will be able to interact and purchase products via virtual supermarket shelves using their smartphones and a bar-code scanning application. The installation is a great example of a virtual/physical service hybrid. 

Business Origami

Along with the use of personas, paper prototyping is one of the easiest and most effective tools in the software design, or service design, toolkit. A small amount of effort provides a substantial return in eliciting stakeholder feedback. It also provides valuable context for further discussion. It allows you to prototype quickly and cheaply. I came across the use of Business Origami from Jess McMullin at the Centre for Citizen Experience - a  Canadian startup that advances public sector research, strategy, policy and service design.  


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Business Origami is a paper prototyping method that uses paper cutouts to represent different components of a system such as people, places, objects and value exchange. Originally used by researchers at Hitachi, the technique is excellent for prototyping service design touchpoints . I recently had the opportunity to test drive the technique as part of my participation in the Standford D.School Design Thinking Action Lab. I was quickly able to create a prototype by downloading and cutting out the Business Origami Shapes. The resulting model, had a much greater impact that anything I have ever put together on Visio. Everybody who visited my office was fascinated to know more about it. 

For more information about how to use Business Origami and try it yourself please check out the Centre for Citizen Experience website, download a copy of the business origami shapes, and watch Jess McMullin's presentation. 


Rotman Dean Roger Martin on Design Thinking

Roger Martin's book "The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage" is still one of the best Design Thinking books available. Here Martin provides a concise description of Design Thinking and why it matters to business. For a more comprehensive discussion on the intersection of business and design please watch the full documentary "Design the New Business".