Is Design Thinking Dead?

The poster boy of Australian corporate innovation, Design Thinking, is slowing us down from getting things done.

Lots of organisations have taken Design Thinking as the system to deliver innovation. While I wouldn’t dare poking David Kelley in the eyes, I think that the way in which Design Thinking has landed inside large orgs has centred around building empathy through research...with an excessive focus on the customer and an obsession with more and more insights in hope of finding the insight that rules them all….[queue Gollum: my precious]

As a result, innovation teams have invested less in developing the skills to empirically find the proof to demonstrate that one idea should be progressed over others. Proof comes from testing and, unfortunately, many orgs do not move past ideas and into testing quickly & cheaply; or at all. The amount of time spent talking about ideas instead of doing something about them is staggering.

Nonetheless, Design Thinking has been a huge influence on the entire innovation industry. It’s a fantastic philosophy, but it’s not a process you can easily use to get from A to B. It doesn’t give you black and white answers, and, lots of post it notes later, it can make it hard to see a clear path forward.

As cliche as it sounds, unfortunately, failure is not understood. When organisations engage in a Double Diamond (Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver) innovation process, seldom is the project team funded to continue to search for the answer unless they strike gold quickly. In a startup “fear of failure” drives speed and urgency. In a large organisation “fear of failure” inhibits speed and risk.

These days, there are no simple problems that are easy to deliver via obvious solutions without any tradeoffs. What’s more, inside large organisations it’s harder than ever to make a buck….and everyone is on the same boat: slow/no growth, fierce competition, cost cutting, margin compression, demanding customers with fickle loyalty, etc..

So it’s time to accept that ambiguity is the name of the game.

The solution? Stop wasting time, get aligned, and make progress quicker & cheaper.

Imagine Design Thinking and Lean Startup go out on a date, get rowdy and have a baby. Its name is the Design Sprint. It was developed by a team at Google Ventures and is a four day process for quickly solving big challenges, creating new products or improving existing ones; and compresses months of work into four days.

The Design Sprint takes the philosophies and tools from Design Thinking, Lean Product Design, Agile Development, Service Design and UX Design; and turns them into a step by step recipe. It’s not the only process to help you do this, but it’s one that we really like because it’s lightning-fast and has been refined through trial and error by really smart people.

One of the beautiful things about it is that it provides a step by step, repeatable guide; so you can stop worrying about the process and focus on getting awesome ideas out in front of customers. Fast as hell!

What happens over the course of the four day Design Sprint:

  • Monday: define the challenge and scope of the week.

  • Tuesday: decide what challenge you are going to prototype.

  • Wednesday: quickly build a high fidelity prototype.

  • Thursday: test the prototype with five people and develop a next steps recommendation.

That’s it. Four days from a team of six to eight people to get you from rough problem space to tested prototype with recommendations on next steps. From my experience, that would normally take over six months and over $150k inside a large org.

Now, running one Design Sprint isn’t going to solve the problems of the universe or guarantee ‘the next big thing’; so you need to make sure that the team is supported to keep carriage of the problem and is able to continue to iterate the prototype until it’s ready to be beefed up further or ditched altogether.

One approach we love is to run two Design Sprints over two consecutive weeks: the first week’s objective is to discover & validate, and the second week’s objective is to refine & iterate.