In the 1990s, David Kelley and Tim Brown of the global design and innovation company IDEO, along with strategy exponent Roger Martin, brought together principles, concepts and methods that had been brewing for many years and distilled them into a unified concept, which they named design thinking.
Design thinking consists of five non-linear, iterative phases or types of activity: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Nielsen Norman Group adds a sixth phase, Implement. Others use different labels, or include additional phases, or both.
In 2022, IDEO adopted a six-aspect design thinking process: Frame a question; Gather inspiration; Generate ideas; Make ideas tangible; Test to learn; Share the story.
Design thinking is not a codified method, but rather a way of thinking and acting. Each user (consulting firm, corporate team, individual practitioner etc.) will interpret design thinking in their own particular manner, but most design thinking projects will look something like this:
Design thinking is both an ideology and a process that seeks to solve complex problems in a user-centric way. It focuses on achieving practical results and solutions that are:
- Technically feasible: They can be developed into functional products or processes;
- Economically viable: The business can afford to implement them;
- Desirable for the user: They meet a real human need.
What is design thinking, and how do we apply it? on InVisionApp wesite
- The needs and concerns of the intended customers or users are kept to the fore.
- Work is undertaken by a multidisciplinary team.
- Work is nonlinear and iterative.
- There are multiple periods of diverge-converge work. Some design thinking practitioners refer to each period as a diamond — for example: “We have adopted the Design Council’s Double Diamond framework.”
- Brainstorming is the primary divergent thinking method.
- Prototyping begins early.
- The emphasis is on imagining and bringing into being a vision of realised potential: a depiction — an actual picture accompanied by a vivid and compelling synopsis — of how the world will look, sound and feel when the person, group or enterprise is fully utilising its value generation potential and manifesting its intent without constraint.
- Diverge-converge work is less prominent,
- Osborn-style brainstorming is not employed. To find out why, view the article Why brainstorming does not form part of Newcreate work.
These are some of the core Newcreate principles:
- We are here to create the new and enrich the world through unconditional service.
- We use three selves to create the new: mental, physical and spiritual.
- We deploy synthetic imagination when seeking modest ideas, and creative imagination when breakthrough ideas are required.
- Upstream imagination and downstream value realisation are conjoined.
We are here to create the new and enrich the world through unconditional service.
Unconditional service is selfless action taken for the benefit of others, motivated by a fervent desire to enrich the world or a particular piece of it. When we give unconditional service, we help others without wanting anything in return.
You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.
Woodrow Wilson, US President from 1913 to 1921
View a transcript of the address that includes this passage | Note that he actually said “You are not here merely to prepare to make a living.” (He was addressing undergraduates.)
Unconditional service comes from the heart, analogous to unconditional love. It doesn’t make sense to the rational mind, the source of conditional, reciprocal service. But when we provide unconditional service, our faith — “a critical but curious mind’s readiness to adopt a reality model (even if provisionally) for which there is less than absolute, empirical proof” 1 — is vindicated.
1. Jay B. Gaskill, The Dialogic Imperative.Read more about unconditional service
We use three selves to create the new: mental self, physical self and spiritual self
The mind can lean towards the left and mundane world, where we are limited to synthetic imagination, or towards the right and primal world, where we gain access to creative imagination.
Read more about synthetic and creative forms of imagination
Download Think and Grow Rich! for free, in its entirety (pdf; 397 pages)
We embody seven creative powers: Receptivity, Imagination, Conceptualisation, Intent, Materialisation, Realisation and Devotion. These combine to form three superpowers: Transcend the Mundane, Create the New, and Enrich the World.
This is an embodied metaphor and does not need to be taken literally.
The first superpower (Transcend the Mundane) must be activated in order to bring the second (Enrich the World) and third (Create the New) into play.
Read more about the seven creative powers and three superpowers
This is experienced as intent — a fervent desire to enrich the world with value, meaning and joy.
Read more about intent
We deploy synthetic imagination when seeking modest ideas, and creative imagination when breakthrough ideas are required.
Could the value generation potential of design thinking be boosted?
Design thinking is almost certainly the most widely adopted create-the-new practice in the organisational realm. It is possible that design thinking practitioners would significantly enhance their create-the-new work by combining design thinking with Newcreate. Their creations would be poised to generate more value, meaning and joy, and the creative capabilities of the Newcreators would be expanded and fully utilised. Further, the Newcreators would experience greater value, meaning and joy themselves.
10 Insightful Design Thinking Frameworks: A Quick Overview, by Rikke Friis Dam and Teo Yu Siang, on Interaction Designn Foundation website
Design Thinking 101, by Sarah Gibbons, on Nielsen Norman Group website
Design Thinking: A Quick Overview, by Rikke Dam and Teo Siang
How to solve problems with design thinking, a collection of articles on the McKinsey & Company website (no paywall)
Making Sense of: “Design Thinking is Bullshit” by GK VanPatter, co-founder of Humantific, on LinkedIn
ReThinking Design Thinking, a book by GK VanPatter with contributions from Elizabeth Pastor and Peter Jones
Storming Design Thinking, by GK VanPatter
What is Design Thinking? on McKinsey & Company website
What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular? by Rikke Friis Dam and Teo Yu Siang, on Interaction Design Foundation website
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