idéSelskabet | Design Thinking for Social Innovation
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Design Thinking for Social Innovation

Designers have traditionally focused on enhancing the look and functionality of products. Recently, they have begun using design techniques to tackle more complex problems, such as finding ways to provide low-cost healthcare throughout the world. Businesses were the first to embrace this new approach—called design thinking—and nonprofits are beginning to adopt it too.

Traditionally, designers focused their attention on improving the look and functionality of products. Classic examples of this type of design work are Apple Computer’s iPod and Herman Miller’s Aeron chair. In recent years designers have broadened their approach, creating entire systems to deliver products and services.

 

Design thinking incorporates constituent or consumer insights in depth and rapid prototyping, all aimed at getting beyond the assumptions that block effective solutions. Design thinking—inherently optimistic, constructive, and experiential—addresses the needs of the people who will consume a product or service and the infrastructure that enables it.

 

Businesses are embracing design thinking because it helps them be more innovative, better differentiate their brands, and bring their products and services to market faster. Nonprofits are beginning to use design thinking as well to develop better solutions to social problems. Design thinking crosses the traditional boundaries between public, for-profit, and nonprofit sectors. By working closely with the clients and consumers, design thinking allows high-impact solutions to bubble up from below rather than being imposed from the top.

 

The Origin of Design Thinking

To distinguish this new type of design work, we began referring to it as “design with a small d.” But this phrase never seemed fully satisfactory. David Kelley, also the founder of Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (aka the “d.school”), remarked that every time someone asked him about design, he found himself inserting the word “thinking” to explain what it was that designers do. Eventually, the term design thinking stuck.

As an approach, design thinking taps into capacities we all have but that are overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. Not only does it focus on creating products and services that are human centered, but the process itself is also deeply human. Design thinking relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that have emotional meaning as well as being functional, and to express ourselves in media other than words or symbols. Nobody wants to run an organization on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an over-reliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as risky. Design thinking, the integrated approach at the core of the design process, provides a third way.

 

The design thinking process is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. There are three spaces to keep in mind: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Think of inspiration as the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions; ideation as the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas; and implementation as the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.

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