At dim-sum, we very deliberately say we “blend disciplines into a mix of research, co-creation, strategic design and futures- and design thinking methods”. Why not simply call ourselves a “design thinking practice” or something more buzzworthy?
The drawback of all things set in stone
Leading up to launching our agency, we’ve talked to quite some founders. These discussions made us realize we could pretty much punch holes in every discipline or methodology, once we tried to apply it to more than two of the projects we had recently worked on.
We found that it simply doesn’t work to apply a pre-defined methodology, molded into a solid form, to a strategic design project, with all its specific characteristics. Therefore we don’t believe in picking one methodology and pushing our clients’ questions through like meat through a meat grinder.
We practice ‘strategic design’.
Although this describes our vision on strategy perfectly, the term isn’t yet widely known, and therefore will not help a lot of people to understand what we actually do.
Strategic design, according to Wikipedia, is “the application of future-oriented design principles in order to increase an organization’s innovative and competitive qualities.”
Also, Wikipedia says;
“Its foundations lie in the analysis of external and internal trends and data, which enables design decisions to be made on the basis of facts rather than aesthetics or intuition. As such it is regarded as an effective way to bridge innovation, research, management, and design.”
We strongly believe brand- and business owners can learn from design-based methodologies and see that in changing times, those who are able to adapt to a changing environment, changing stakeholder needs and changing (cultural) values, are those who not only survive but become inherently better and more successful.
At dim-sum, we help brands and businesses grow. We research new perspectives, construct stories and plans, and connect closely with our clients’ team and external experts. Eventually, we deliver concrete results that evoke both short-term value and longer-term sustainable growth.
We do all this by hosting workshops, facilitating ideation- or futures thinking sessions, by going out to do field research, and by talking to anyone that can potentially shine a new light on existing problems. Many of these practices are also reflected in the methodology of ‘design thinking’.
The basics of ‘design thinking’
Design thinking is a set of principles we believe teams can benefit from, and one that has been getting a lot of attention recently.
In its simplest description, ‘design thinking’ just means; “thinking the way a designer thinks”. In its now popular form, it is a methodology for innovation and solution-development that consists of 5 phases; empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, and testing.
Basically, it helps teams to find more honest data, frame sensible insights, collaborate in finding ideas for products or services and then build and test various solutions. Before launching and potentially restarting the process for a new iteration.
Sometimes people seem to think its principles are new but they aren’t. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the first references to ‘design thinking’ we’re already made in the literature. Among the first authors to write about design thinking was John Arnold in “Creative Engineering” (1959) and L. Bruce Archer in “Systematic Method for Designers” (1965).
‘Design thinking’ as a methodology for innovation is often accredited to David M. Kelley and his design firm IDEO, which was founded in 1991.
Another term often used in this context is ‘human-centered design’: putting the people you’re designing for first, front and center.
In order to be able to do this, the designer needs tools from the ‘design thinking’ toolbox. For instance, empathizing (understanding how his users’ experience really is and what problems they face), prototyping and testing are very valuable ways to design solutions with the user/human as a starting point.
If you think about this for a second, the newfound popularity of human-centered design is actually slightly peculiar, because every design made for humans should be human-centered, right? In practice, however, other factors (mostly technological development, or the intent and interest of the company) have been leading in many organizations for decades. So while maybe quite logical, the human-centered design movement is actually very useful for many teams finding answers to their questions that actually resonate with their audiences.
Never one answer to all questions
As with every popular idea ever, also ‘design thinking’ as a business practice is facing some negative criticism occasionally. Critique varies from “it’s not new” (that’s right) to “it doesn’t provide new ideas” (it doesn’t do anything, people do it, and they can use its dynamics to find new ideas).
A much-heard point that’s worth thinking about longer, is that the democratization of design gives people the false presumption that everyone should be a designer. If a designer’s work is a craft (one that is very important in the time we live in), then is a methodology that extends its ways of working to potentially everyone the right way to find better solutions for problems?
Or, do we need actual designers, with the talent to see patterns in needs of people, that are able to extrapolate existing situations towards desirable ones, and that can envision and really build products and services in ways that not everyone can?
As Steve Jobs famously said; “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. If this is true, asking people what they need doesn’t seem like the best idea. It makes you think of Henry Ford when asked about the first motorized car when he said; “if I had asked people what they wanted, we would have had faster horses”.
There’s definitely a valid point in saying that ‘design thinking’ as a method alone doesn’t guarantee groundbreaking ideas. Innovation still needs extraordinary (designer) minds, to dream up what people need, but what they don’t know they need yet.
At dim-sum, we believe that designing groundbreaking strategies requires an inclusive approach. It needs designer-minds, and researchers, and users, and the team that eventually needs to embrace the changes, and their stakeholders, and people with totally fresh perspectives. All in a smart, creative, energetic mix.
In upcoming articles, we will certainly explore this topic further. We’d be very curious to hear your thoughts too. Please feel free to weigh in on this with your personal views via firstname.lastname@example.org. To be continued!