have come to define the traditional organizational
environment. They add a fluid dimension to the
exploration of complexity, allowing for nonlinear
thought when tackling nonlinear problems.
For example, the U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs’ Center for Innovation has used a design artifact called a customer journey map to understand
veterans’ emotional highs and lows in their interactions with the VA. “This form of artifact helped
us better tell a story to various stakeholders,” says
Melissa Chapman, a designer who worked at the
Center for Innovation. Even more important, she
adds, it “helped us develop a strategic way to think
about changing the entire organization and to communicate that emergent strategy.” The customer
journey map and other design models are tools for
understanding. They present alternative ways of
looking at a problem.
Use prototypes to explore potential solutions. In design-centric organizations, you’ll typically see prototypes of new ideas, new products,
and new services scattered throughout offices and
meeting rooms. Whereas diagrams such as customer journey maps explore the problem space,
prototypes explore the solution space. They may be
digital, physical, or diagrammatic, but in all cases
they are a way to communicate ideas. The habit of
publicly displaying rough prototypes hints at an
open-minded culture, one that values exploration
and experimentation over rule following. The MIT
Media Lab formalizes this in its motto, “Demo or
die,” which recognizes that only the act of prototyping can transform an idea into something truly
valuable—on their own, ideas are a dime a dozen.
Design-centric companies aren’t shy about tinker-
ing with ideas in a public forum and tend to iterate
quickly on prototypes—an activity that the innova-
tion expert Michael Schrage refers to as “serious
play.” In his book of that title, he writes that in-
novation is “more social than personal.” He adds,
“Prototyping is probably the single most pragmatic
behavior the innovative firm can practice.”
Tolerate failure. A design culture is nurturing.
It doesn’t encourage failure, but the iterative nature
of the design process recognizes that it’s rare to get
things right the first time. Apple is celebrated for its
successes, but a little digging uncovers the Newton
tablet, the Pippin gaming system, and the Copland
operating system—products that didn’t fare so well.
(Pippin and Copland were discontinued after only
two years.) The company leverages failure as learning,
viewing it as part of the cost of innovation.
Greg Petroff, the chief experience officer at GE
Software, explains how the iterative process works
at GE: “GE is moving away from a model of exhaustive product requirements. Teams learn what to do
in the process of doing it, iterating, and pivoting.”
Employees in every aspect of the business must realize that they can take social risks—putting forth
half-baked ideas, for instance—without losing face
or experiencing punitive repercussions.
Exhibit thoughtful restraint. Many products
built on an emotional value proposition are simpler
than competitors’ offerings. This restraint grows
out of deliberate decisions about what the product
should do and, just as important, what it should not
do. By removing features, a company offers customers a clear, simple experience. The thermostat Nest—
inside, a complex piece of technology—provides
fewer outward-facing functions than other thermostats, thus delivering an emotional experience that
reflects the design culture of the company. As CEO
Tony Fadell said in an interview published in Inc.,
“At the end of the day you have to espouse a feeling—
in your advertisements, in your products. And that
feeling comes from your gut.”
Increasingly, corporations and
professional services firms are
working to create design-centric
Many products, services,
and processes are now
technologically complex. People
are not hardwired to deal well
with high levels of complexity.
They need help.
People need their interactions
with technologies and other
complex systems to be intuitive
and pleasurable. Empathy,
experimentation, design smarts,
and other qualities help create
those kinds of interactions.
Those qualities need to spread
from the product design function
to the whole organization.
Idea in Brief
September 2015 Harvard Business Review 69
DESIGN THINKING COMES OF AGE