Mention the words 'design thinking', and most UX practitioners, digital agencies and product designers will tell you that it really isn't anything ‘new'. But it is hard to deny that the topic has a lot of momentum in the mainstream now. Just last week, two giants of the media world, Fortune and The New York Times, offered further insight into the mindset at two companies at very different points on the 'design thinking' spectrum: Nike and IBM.
Let’s have a look at the differences, taking the articles in with an appropriately sized grain of salt. At IBM, Phil Gilbert - former head of the acquisition Lombardi Software - has been appointed to lead IBM Design. One of his aims is hire and train no less than 1000 designers in order to reinvent the customer experience, something that Virginia M. Rometty and her executive team have identified is essential to turning IBM’s fortunes around.
Contrast this to Nike, where Mark Parker - a still practicing sneaker designer - is also a 'relentlessly inquisitive’ CEO who oversees profits and stock prices soaring as high as the athletes they support. There is only one reference to ‘design thinking’ in the Fortune article, but yet you get the sense through the anecdotes about Nike's approach and many years of experience in marketing, product development and the fan experience that it is a core part of its DNA.
Success is of course relative for these two very different companies. For Nike, strong design practice is necessary, let alone implied, in order to be successful sportswear producers for the consumer market. However, IBM’s history as technology pioneers has mainly been focused on the business and the enterprise. Recent successes BlueMix and MobileFirst for iOS are slowly shifting the balance, but regardless, they still have a lot of work ahead of them to see an upturn in results from the last few years.
Given IBM’s design thinking program has been running since 2012, a massive focus on design may not be the solution to all their problems. They should take heed from Korean giants Samsung, who mentioned as part of Harvard Business Review’s feature on Design Thinking in September: "Shifting to an innovation-focused culture without losing an engineering edge is not a simple matter. It involves managing a number of very real tensions.” IBM Design's Doug Powell alludes to this challenge in the NYT article, mentioning that “it’s not as though the masses of IBM were waiting for us to arrive.”
It’s a strong message for many other large companies in Hong Kong who are also shifting their attention towards design thinking. Mckinsey & Lunar, and Accenture Interactive (featuring with Fjord and PacificLink) have made big moves this year - and even smaller outfits are espousing the mindset, like First Code Academy, who run classes and workshops for kids to hone their technological skills.
Whilst the design world likes it or not, "design thinking" is here to stay in the business world - and it seemingly has the potential to inspire massive change. However, overall innovation and business success will depend on how well design thinking can be integrated into the culture of a company - and all eyes will be watching to see whether or not IBM can rise to the challenge.
For those in Hong Kong, the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry is hosting a Creative Day on Thursday 27 November, where as part of a full program of talks and panels, I’ll be co-facilitating a workshop on the basics of Design Thinking, and how to use the mindset to inspire creativity and innovation within your teams and organisations.
Lashinky, Adam, “Nike’s Master Craftsman”, Fortune, 12 November 2015
Lohr, Steve, “IBM’s Design-Centred Strategy to Set Free the Squares”, The New York Times,14 November 2015
Yoo, Youngjin and Kim, Kyungmook, “How Samsung Became a Design Powerhouse”, Harvard Business Review, September 2015
Photo: Flickr (familymwr)