Designing a Path Through Change

Designing a Path Through Change

While watching a video recently about a “design thinking” firm, the thing that struck me most was the variety of people they employed for their consulting teams. One was an opera singer, another a physicist, still another was a UI (user interface) designer. The thing they all had in common was problem-solving expertise. The fact that the firm drew talent from across the spectrum intrigued me.

In short, design thinking is about applying the typical design cycle to new domains. The design cycle, moves, generally speaking, from (user centered) research to creative thinking to prototyping to testing and implementing or indeed going back to the beginning of the design cycle to start again.

Top design thinking firms include IDEO (the field originator, incubated at Stanford’s Design Lab), Continuum, Frog Design, Acorn, Fahrenheit 212, Adaptive Path and Smart Design, with others popping up all the time.

As Wired magazine reported, “Along with the Maker Culture and Collaborative Economy, design thinking can help businesses create the sort of products and services that the world wants, but doesn’t know it yet, because they don’t fit neatly into the standards of today.”

Design Thinking writ large is creativity and innovation realized.

Here’s a very brief (3:00 min) video that attempts to answer the question, What is “design thinking”?

As you can see after watching the video, design thinking reflects a process that has always been used by creative, intuitive, risk taking people – not necessarily “designers” – to produce an excellent outcome no matter what it takes.

I find this approach valuable in our increasingly complex and volatile world. Design thinking doesn’t result in concrete “solutions” (though it can), but it helps organizations create a path toward transformative change. And that path can become a platform that can be used for other challenges an organization or business will face. I am playing with this approach at Berklee College of Music where we are seeking to create a forward-looking college wide career development strategy.

In short, design thinking is:

  • human-centered
  • collaborative
  • optimistic
  • experimental

While it isn’t a one size fits all methodology, and there is no guarantee of success, it is a potent formula for any company to have in its toolbox.

Other terms often used for similar processes to design thinking include:

  • Co-creation
  • Service Design
  • User centered design
  • Co-design
  • Social Design
  • Design research
  • Meta Design
  • Critical Design
  • Experience Design
  • Relational Design
  • Design Management

the list goes on…

Check it out.

Would love to hear from anyone with deign thinking  experience!


  1. I’m not familiar with the concept of “design thinking” but in designing training materials and engagement/communication artifacts at work, it’s my natural inclination to employ a “human-centered, collaborative, optimistic and experimental” approach. Design thinking, however, is often seen as a pie-in-the-sky and cumbersome approach within a corporate environment where many are jaded and lack expectation for a truly dynamic outcome.

  2. I hear you, Anna. DT is really just “the human approach” disguised as a buzz-worthy tactic. I’ve seen it work wonderfully, and I’ve seen it fall on deaf ears.

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