Design Thinking in HBR (Tim Brown)

Once in a while the Harvard Business Review tackles topics close to my field. Sometimes it's about foresight, today it's about design with this article by Tim Brown called "Design Thinking" (in the june 2008 edition). Starting an insightful model in R&D/innovation, namely Thomas Edison, Brown describes design thinking as a descendant of that tradition of a "blended art, craft, science, business savvy, and an astute understanding of customers and markets". He simply defines it as:

"it is a discipline that uses the designer's sensibility and methods to match people's needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity."

In these days of desperate need of innovation as "a source of differentiation and competitive advantage", design thinking is literally more and more invited to the business table (hence a publication in HBR). Brown definitely make clear that design evolved from

"put a beautiful wrapper around the idea (...) making new products and technologies aesthetically attractive and therefore more desirable to consumers or by enhancing brand perception through smart, evocative advertising and communication strategies"


"Now, however, rather than asking designers to make an already developed idea more attractive to consumers, companies are asking them to create ideas that better meet consumers' needs and desires. The former role is tactical, and results in limited value creation; the latter is strategic, and leads to dramatic new forms of value.

Giving some examples, he also enters in more detail in the process itself, discussing the role of prototypes and "tools for design thinking". As well as an interesting deconstruction of the myth of the creative genius, Brown shows how it's not about ideas popping up out from the blue, but instead the results of an hardworking process with human-discovery and iterations.

Why do I blog this? it's a decent overview of what is design, to be kept up handy for upcoming teaching gigs. The good thing here (for designers) is the acknowledgement of the strategic value of design and the intrinsical importance of adopting a user-centred approach. The sidebar about designers' profile and the non-importance of black clothes is also a good start.

As a side-note, I find intriguing that the term "behavioral scientists/researchers" is more and more used. It sorts of echoes with the NYT piece about Jan Chipchase. Working in that domain and having troubles to define in 2 words what I am doing, I am always intrigued by the terms employed by different stakeholders: behavioral researcher seems to be the term for the press lately, whereas consultants and companies use "user experience" (I know there are nuances though).