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When we talk about “Design Thinking” it is impossible not to quote the phrase directly from the man that coined it a decade ago.

“Design thinking is a human centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” – Tim Brown, President and CEO, IDEO

The reason I do this, is that despite outlining a clear definition around desirability, feasibility and viability, there still exists many interpretations of the idea, where it comes from, and how it has evolved over the years. This is most likely driven by the fact that design thinking is part of an ongoing evolution of design systems, methodologies and mindsets that have been changing over time from the mid-century onwards. It is therefore no wonder that there are many interpretations beyond Brown’s more recent commentary.

Nevertheless, as a designer myself, I’m very glad that this phrase has helped bring Design to the forefront, showcasing it as a key business problem solving tool. Over the next few years we will continue to expand its use across enterprise, from product and customer experience-based innovation, to strategic enterprise design, designing the business itself and how it functions and services its many stakeholders.

"Design thinking is a human centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success."

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What next for Design Thinking?

Not discounting that the skills of design have been around for millennia, modern principles (or Design Thinking principles) gained their foothold in the mid-20th Century through designers such as Buckminster Fuller, Horst Rittel and Nigel Cross and others and have played a quiet, but key, role in the success of many businesses that we know and respect today. (E.g. Sony, Boeing, Volkswagen, etc.)

Over the last 30 years or so, these businesses have been significantly challenged by the disruptive change that the PC and internet have created, which has in turn driven us toward ‘the screen’ as the key control interface of the extended environment that those businesses/industries have created for us. Our Walkman’s turned to iPods; our seatback magazines to inflight entertainment systems; our car salesman to an online interactive experience. And that is where we have been for the last decade at least.

In the first article in this section; “Design Thinking in 5 Years Will Require a Complete Retooling of Agencies as We Know It”, Mark Newcomer from Mirum suggests that the next significant change is now upon us with our move from screen-based interface to what he describes as Digitally Enhanced/Enabled Physical Experiences or (DEEPs). He suggests that “much of how we design today will need to be reconsidered”, a brave new world and something that will be as significant, if not more than, the ‘not so’ recent move to the now ubiquitous screen interface.

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Whilst the interfaces that we design are set to change significantly, so too are the processes and structures of the companies that create them sites Glen Jeffreys, Head of UX at Deepend, in his article “Death of the Department”. If we truly believe that Design Thinking is a sound approach to creating the future and the complex systems that will make it up, then surely, we must also apply the thinking to how we create it too. A truly user-centred approach to how, as well as what, we create. Beware the polymaths are coming!

Zoë Warne, Co-Founder of August in her article “Moving Beyond Technology: Redefining the Design and Engineering Professions” agrees with Jeffreys and looks externally at the design professions themselves when it comes to breaking down silos, collaborating and creating “maximum positive impact on the world we want to see, together.”

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Chris Koehler from Adobe, in his article “Thomas Andrews and the Well-Designed, Badly Built Boat”, takes a more pragmatic approach to Design and Design Thinking and challenges; now that Designers have a ‘seat at the table’ they have a responsibility to serve the organizations they work for, outlining “6 Keys to Success” to ensure that we deliver on our promises and navigate the icy waters to success.

In the final article of this section, “Designers Thinking Like Business People Thinking Like Designers”, Jim Hertzfield from Perficient Digital makes a call to arms for us all to adopt design thinking practices, as neither clients or customers care anymore about technology or who or how it is mastered. Solving the unmet needs of users and creating great customer experiences is all that is wanted in the saturated and incredibly complex world we find ourselves in.

Whatever your definition or view on Design is today, I’m confident that the following articles should spark some interesting thought and discussion on the topic.

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