Design Thinking is the featured topic in the September issue of the Harvard Business Review with four articles on the subject. “It’s no longer just for products. Executives are using this approach to devise strategy and manage change,” reads the tagline in its cover.
The application of design thinking beyond products, - in innovation, problem solving and business strategy, - isn’t new. Nobel laureate Herbert Simon discussed the concept in his 1969 classic The Sciences of the Artificial. IDEO, a firm best known for pioneering this expanded view of design, traces its roots back to 1978. The School of Design in London’s Royal College of Art has long been pushing the boundaries of industrial design. Stanford’s Institute of Design, aka the d.school, was founded a dozen years ago. “But many companies still aren’t sure how it can improve their business,” notes Adi Ignatius, HBR’s editor-in-chief.
It’s not surprising that many companies don’t understand what is meant by design thinking, let alone its potential value to their business. It’s much easier to appreciate the role of design when it comes to physical objects: cars, bridges, buildings, dresses, shoes, jewelry, smartphones, laptops, and so on. But, it’s considerably harder to appreciate its importance when it comes to more abstract entities like systems, services, information and organizations. Their very nature is vague. You can’t touch them. Yet, they account for the bulk of the growing complexity in our daily lives.