Design Thinking: The Next Competitive Advantage

by Luke Wroblewski November 1, 2007

Roger Martin’s Design Thinking: The Next Competitive Advantage talk at Yahoo! this week outlined design thinking, why it is important, and how we can overcome conflicts that arise between design & business. My notes follow:

  • How does our understanding of the World develop over time? Everything starts out as a mystery. As we analyze it, we turn it into a heuristic: a way of characterizing our thinking about something. When we understand it further, we turn it into an algorithm. In the late 20th century we added a fourth step: we began to code our algorithms.
  • This process can be thought of as a knowledge funnel. As we move down the knowledge funnel, we leave things out. When something is a mystery, we consider everything. When it is an algorithm, we need to consider less things to understand it. Finally, when a computer runs code it thinks about nothing. It just executes.
  • As we move down funnel, we create more efficiency. But the drawback is we leave things out.
  • Example: Type-setting. Started with mystery of how to publish, became an algorithm, now it’s code. Requires no thought for most people. Designers add things back into the knowledge funnel. In type-setting, designers add kerning.
  • Analytical thinking is refinement within an existing knowledge stage of the funnel. For example, refining an algorithm or a heuristic. Analytical thinking is:
    • Substantiation based on past events
    • Look at past, use it to tell you what to do
    • Deductive: have a rule, apply that rule
    • Inductive: take a lot of examples and deduce
    • Use a limited number of objective variables
    • Minimize judgment to reduce the possibility of bias
    • Organized by: ongoing tasks managed over long time
    • Mode of Reasoning: declarative –declare whether true or false
    • Source of Status: managing big budget & large staff
    • Dominant attitude: constraints are the enemy
    • Goal is reliability: to produce consistent replicable outcomes
  • Design Thinking is the advancement from one knowledge stage to the next knowledge stage. For example, from mystery to heuristic. Design thinking is:
    • Substantiation based on future events. Can only be proven in the future.
    • Logic of what might be: abductive. Inductive & Deductive does not determine new things.
    • The use of a broad number of diverse variables. Not all can be easily quantified.
    • Integration of judgment.
    • Acknowledgement of the reality of bias
    • Organized by: projects
    • Mode of Reasoning: generative – logic of what might be
    • Source of Status: solving wicked problems
    • Dominant attitude: ), constraints add to challenge & excitement
    • Goal is validity: the production of outcome that meets objectives
  • These two approaches create conflict. Business people think about reliability. Designers are more interested in validity.
  • One is not better than the other. Both need each other but have fundamental differences. Prove it vs. If you tell me to prove it, I can’t do anything.
  • Advice on how to work together. Designers working with business:
    • Take design-unfriendliness as a design challenge: this needs to be part of your job.
    • Empathize with the “design-unfriendly” elements. Find out what they are trying to produce.
    • Speak the language of reliability. Consistency, efficiency, etc. Need a shared language.
    • Use analogies & stories. This looks like something that has happened already. Substantiated by how analogous it is to something that happened in the past.
    • Bite off as little a piece as possible to generate proof. What’s the small piece that you can do to generate belief or proof.
  • Advice on how to work together. Business working with designers:
    • Take inattention to reliability as a management challenge.
    • Empathize with the “reliability-unfriendly” elements. Trying to save you from downside of knowledge funnel: honing yourself to oblivion.
    • Speak the language of validity.
    • Share data & reasoning, not conclusions. Help designers link past to what they believe in the future.
    • Bite off as big a piece as possible to give innovation the biggest chance for succeeding.