MICHAEL G. LUCHS is a former executive and industry consultant, is an Associate Professor at the College of William & Mary and Founding Director of the Jim & Bobbie Ukrop Innovation & Design Studio.
K. SCOTT SWAN is a Professor of International Business, Design, and Marketing at the College of William and Mary Mason School of Business, and a Fulbright Scholar serving as the Hall Distinguished Chair for Entrepreneurship in Central Europe at WU Vienna, Austria (2015-2016).
ABBIE GRIFFIN holds the Royal L. Garff Presidential Chair in Marketing at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, and the former editor of the Journal of Product Innovation Management.
A Brief Introduction to Design Thinking1
Michael G. Luchs
Innovation and Design Studio, College of William & Mary
Within the context of new product development (NPD) and innovation, design thinking has enjoyed significantly increased visibility and, for many, increased perceived importance over the last decade. For others, however, this term can be fraught with confusion, questions of relevancy and, for some, the perception of a fad. Within that context, the objectives of this chapter include the following: First, I briefly describe the concept of design thinking and its role within NPD and innovation. Next, I provide and describe a simple framework of design thinking, followed by a summary of some fundamental principles of the "mindset" of design thinking. Throughout, I identify linkages with the other chapters in this book. While this chapter provides an overview of design thinking as well as some context, the remaining chapters in this book provide significantly more detail and a wide variety of specific examples. Thus, this chapter concludes with a visual overview of the book to help guide you to the specific ideas, tools, and practices most applicable to the NPD and innovation problems and opportunities that you and your firm are facing today.
1.1 The Concept of Design Thinking and Its Role within NPD and Innovation
What is design thinking? At its core, design thinking can be construed as a creative problem-solving approach-or, more completely, as a systematic and collaborative approach for identifying and creatively solving problems.2 The term design thinking simply means that one is approaching problems, and their solutions, as a designer would. While this will be elaborated subsequently, an illustrative characteristic of the design thinking approach is that it is intentionally nonlinear. Designers, whether in the arts or industry, tend to explore and solve problems through iteration. They quickly generate possible solutions, develop simple prototypes, and then iterate on these initial solutions-informed by significant external feedback-toward a final solution. This is in contrast to a linear process, such as the traditional Stage-GateTM new product development (NPD) process, in which prototyping is typically done toward the end of the process to reflect the culmination of the development phase and to explore manufacturability, rather than as a mechanism for gaining market feedback. A more thorough description of design thinking as a process and mindset follows, but first I address an important question for those involved with new product development and innovation: When is design thinking most applicable?
When to Apply Design Thinking
Generally speaking, design thinking is best applied in situations in which the problem, or opportunity, is not well defined, and/or a breakthrough idea or concept is needed, that is, an idea that has a significant and positive impact, such as creating a new market or enabling significant revenue growth. Design thinking methods have been used successfully in different ways within business including new venture creation, business model design, and process improvement. While our focus is on applying design thinking to the challenge and opportunity of new product development3 and innovation, this book also includes several chapters that address other contexts, such as business model design (Chapters 18 and 19).
Within the context of NPD, design thinking is very well suited to use in markets that are quickly changing and when user needs are uncertain, such as the emerging market for wearable biometric devices. However, design thinking is equally applicable in more mature markets as a means to identify new, latent customer needs and/or in an effort to develop significant or radical innovations (Chapter 17). Whereas incremental innovations are also critically important to most companies, they typically are bounded by well-defined problems or established customer needs, such as improving gas engine fuel efficiency. In those situations, a more linear, Stage-Gate process is still appropriate. Nonetheless, even in these situations there may be specific elements of a design thinking approach-specific tools or techniques-that can improve a project's outcome.
For the right situations, however, a design thinking approach is more likely to lead to better solutions that address the most important customer needs, and do so more efficiently than traditional NPD approaches alone. One of the reasons for this is that design thinking helps to avoid the trap of investing too many resources too early in a project toward developing a specific, single solution. Rather than placing such a "big bet," design thinking encourages many "little bets" (Sims, 2013) about customer insights and possible solutions. Sims describes these little bets as "low risk actions taken to discover, develop, and test an idea." These little bets make it more likely that a project team will quickly converge on solution concepts with the highest potential market success. At some point, of course, specifications need to be well defined and the product needs to be developed and, ultimately, produced. In this sense, another way to think about design thinking is as a clarifying lens on the oft referred to "fuzzy front end" of NPD, whereby a project begins with an iterative, design thinking approach, followed by a traditional Stage-Gate process after enough has been learned about customer needs and possible solutions.
The Origins of Design Thinking
The methods and mindset of design thinking, although championed by progressive companies and design consultancies, draw from a wide field of disciplines including software development, engineering, anthropology, psychology, the arts, and business. Design thinking as it exists today has co-evolved across a variety of disciplines and industries. Over time-well over 50 years, and even longer depending on your perspective-the best and most generalizable methods and practices have emerged and converged in a quasi-Darwinian process of natural selection. These have been codified, integrated, documented, and championed by leading design firms (such as IDEO and frog) and academic institutions (such as Stanford's d.school, and the Rotman School of Management), and have increasingly been adopted by industry and popularized by the media under the shared moniker of design thinking.
While this co-evolution and vetting of design thinking has led to a robust set of methodologies, it has also contributed to some confusion given the proliferation of tools, methods, books, seminars, and, more recently, online training available. Rather than getting lost in the details from the start, a useful way to learn about design thinking methods is through the lens of an organizing framework. Even here, however, there are a variety of frameworks to choose from, each with its own nuances and biases. To the novice, this, too, can be daunting. Given the time to explore these, however, it becomes apparent that there actually is significant consistency across these frameworks. In a sense, each of these has been a prototype framework-building on the ideas and lessons of its predecessors. In that iterative spirit, I propose a framework for design thinking in the next section that is intended to reflect the shared elements of existing frameworks, with the objective of retaining the most important elements of design thinking and their distinctions, while simplifying their depiction and terminology. At the least, this framework introduces the major elements of design thinking as efficiently as possible and facilitates an exploration of the rich content contained within the other chapters of this book. Further, it will make it easier to quickly navigate other design thinking frameworks in use and, in so doing, enable an efficient exploration of the vast library of tools, techniques, and advice beyond these pages.
1.2 A Framework of Design Thinking
There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of specific design thinking-related methods and tools available, and this book will explore many of these. Learning about just a few of these and understanding how they are used together is likely more valuable than trying to experiment with them without any context. The following framework is intended to provide that context, by organizing these methods and tools based on their role or purpose.
Design thinking, as a systematic and collaborative approach for identifying and creatively solving problems, includes two major phases: identifying problems and solving problems. Both of these phases are critical, but in practice most people and project teams within companies are more inclined to focus on the latter, that is, on solving problems. We are naturally creative beings, and given any problem-however ill-defined-most of us can generate a set of ideas. Unfortunately, these often will not be great ideas, that is, ideas that are both original and that solve the problems with the greatest potential. One of the most powerful features of design thinking is its emphasis on identifying the right problems to solve in the first place. This is, therefore, a key element of the following framework, as indicated by the two phases of design thinking depicted in Figure 1.1: Identify and Solve. Next, I describe the purpose of each of the modes within these two phases, followed by a discussion of the...