I remember my first few days in the world of work vividly. I had joined British Aerospace as an Undergraduate Engineer and spent a year in industry before going to university. In my first days as an ‘engineer’ we spent time being taught and practising engineering drawing which in those days was physical, involving a large drawing board, pens, and paper. We then spent six months in the training workshops learning how to make things. We developed skills from filing, cutting, and panel beating, through to milling and turning on CNC machinery. I still have my test pieces, which are a mixture of functional items and more esoteric ‘industrial art’ from an 18 year old.
What this period did has stayed with me, and on reflection has been one of the most fundamental periods of learning during my working life. It gave me an appreciation of the power of the end to end design process. It gave me a framework in which to think and solve problems.
Often when we think about ‘design’ we naturally think it’s about the creation of an aesthetically pleasing item, or a piece of art. Increasingly though, design thinking is being seen as a business tool to help solve problems and create solutions.
If I decompose some of the elements that I learnt in my early days then they include:
- Purpose – you need to understand what you’re trying to solve and why? What are the desired outcomes that your client or users want to achieve? What are the direct and indirect benefits that you’re trying to achieve?
- People – you need to think about the people. Most of the solutions that we create will have a human in the loop or a human element and it’s critical to think about how it interfaces, it’s ease of use, and it’s aesthetics to name but a few considerations
- Persistence – iteration is key. Very few solutions, whether physical, or virtual, will appear in the first cut. We have to get used to piloting and prototyping, testing and trialling. Remember it took James Dyson over 5,000 iterations to make his first vacuum cleaner, the DC01
Whilst I learnt these skills in an environment where often what I’d drawn as a test piece failed when you tried to make it, or when you were making a test piece, because it was made by hand you had to keep checking it against the ‘go / no-go’ gauge, the concepts have been equally as useful in my business life. The most successful deals and projects that I’ve been involved in embodied the above approaches in the ‘process’ of creation. Design thinking ran through them.
But how often do we pilot a legal agreement? or think about the usability of a contract? Would we accept 5,000 iterations to get to a new process or service?
In an every more interconnected and interacting world it likely that without design thinking solutions will become more difficult to create in many instances. Design thinking is therefore a simple but fundamental skill for success, and those organisations that embed design thinking in their core will likely find it to be a differentiator for them.