Design Thinking comes of Age

The article Design Thinking Comes of Age by Jon Kolko helped me get a greater understanding of the importance of design thinking. The texted explained that increasing complexity of modern technology and modern business has led organizations to adapt principles of design in the core of the organization. These large corporations have realized that people need interaction to be simple, intuitive and enjoyable and to be able to achieve this it is important to understand the users in a deeply and meaningful level.

Design thinking is explained as an essential tool for simplifying and humanizing. It should be implemented throughout the entire organization to be able to explore new alternatives of tackling problems. This process is explained with the following principles:

  1. Focus on users experiences: I believe this is probably the most important aspect of design thinking. It is crucial to build relationships of trust with the users and be empathetic. To actually understand what people want and need, designers have to get involved with people, designers have to observe, pay close attention to detail and draw conclusions in an emotional language.

The text explains the differences between a traditional value proposition and an emotional value proposition. A traditional value proposition is a promise of utility, whereas an emotional value proposition is a promise of feeling. This made me think about the way various brands are now approaching their audiences. People are no longer buying a product because of its functional benefits, they are buying products because of that they make them feel and the experiences these products are offering. In todays world, people are creating relationships with brands in a deeper and emotional level, it is like if they were actually alive. I would compare this to what I once read about branding called top of heart. If I think about the brands I like, it makes total sense, I don’t buy an iphone because I can make calls with it, or listen to music or browse the Internet (which would be the functional benefits). There are million phones that do exactly the same, or even better. I buy an iphone because of what makes me feel, because it is luxurious, because whether its true or not I believe it is the most innovative phone, because I feel that the phone knows me, because it thinks differently. Moreover, if I think about Coca-cola, I love their advertising campaigns, and the brand doesn’t just offer a drink that calms your thirst, or tastes nice, it offers happiness. It is about sharing with people and creating a community. They communicate the same values through all the touch points with their audience; it is a cohesive communication that slowly shapes the customers impression of the brand. Clearly, these brands are successful because they are designing for a clear audience, and they know their audience, better than anyone, they know what they want and need and they connect with them through emotions and experiences.

  1. Create models to examine complex problems: For designers to think in a nonlinear way, explore, define, communicate and tackle problems they need tools to present and analyze their ideas. This is when diagrams and sketches come to life. Through visualizing the information designers collect, it is possible to fully understand the user and start realizing the real problems. Sometimes people think they know what they need, but through the design process its possible to find out that they didn’t even know what the problem really was. An example of this, was that last year while working on a project, a team was given the challenge to “re-design the dental chair in India” by a hospital in India, but after doing a detailed need finding process, the team realized that the problem wasn’t the dental chair, so they had to re-define the problem and actually “design a dental experience in India”

Moreover, while I was reading this, I thought this could be a bridge between the collection phase of the 5C model and the comprehend phase. It is important to have different tools and methods to collect the information, such as storyboards, journals and sketches, but it is also important to start analyzing this information. Some of the methods I have found very useful when collecting information is making a time-lapse of the situation I am observing to see the changes, or following my user for an entire day to see how he/she reacts to different situations.

  1. Use prototypes to explore potential solutions: While the diagrams explore the problem space, the prototypes explore the solution space. Prototypes help communicate ideas and they an transform these ideas into something tangible and truly valuable. I believe the real objective of a prototype is learning about the user. It all comes back to the users needs, the prototype is created to test it with the user and see their reactions and perceptions. Prototypes are quick and cheap ways of bringing ideas to life to test with the user, readjust and re prototype. Personally, for me this is one of the most challenging things, whenever I present something I want it to look like a finished piece of work, but if I do this, I get emotionally attached and then my perception gets clustered by my emotions. Some prototypes I have created over the years look like this:

IMG_4771 IMG_4781IMG_4744 IMG_4669 IMG_4604 IMG_20150126_110401  IMG_4857

This images show some of the prototypes I have previously done. Some are models of ideas, and other prototypes are experiences for users.

In class we developed the following prototypes based on the Idea of recycling in Winchester.

IMG_0878 IMG_0879

  1. Tolerate failure: It is important to understand that it doesn’t matter if a prototype is successful or not, the aim is to learn about it, whether it fails or it succeeds, the objective of the prototype will still be accomplish. I would much rather fail in a prototype, than failing in a final product. This is why we are meant to do prototypes, to avoid failure in the future.
  1. Exhibit thoughtful restraint: Like I mention earlier, it is important to offer customers clear, simple and cohesive experiences. This principle is all about the phrase “Less is more”.

Although all of these seem very logical, Jon Kolko explains there are 3 big challenges when incorporating this methodology in organizations:

  1. Accepting ambiguity
  2. Embracing risk
  3. Resetting expectations

It is important to understand that innovation is a leap of faith and its risky; it is nearly impossible to estimate the exact outcome. Also, it is crucial to understand the possibilities of design, although it is a great way of creating innovation solutions to problems, it is not a way of operating a stable business.

Finally I would say my favorite part of the text was when the author explained that before design was related to aesthetics, arts and craft and today it is seen as a way of helping bring ideas to life. I think this is the reason why I chose to be a designer, because by turning this ideas into reality designers can change and shape the world.


Kolko, J. (2015) ‘Design Thinking Comes of Age’, Harvard Business Review, September 2015


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