Several good articles about the intersection of design and innovation are found in the 2009 (V. 30, N.3) issue of the Journal of Business Strategy. It is not freely available on the Internet, but many academic libraries subscribe to Emerald online journals and this issue is available there. I wanted to mention two article in particular that I’m reading because they pertain to design thinking (well more than a few in this issue are but these two are of greatest interest to me – you may find others of value). The first is titled “Beyond good: great innovations through design” by Steven Sato and the other one is “Innovation is good, fitness is better” by James Hackett.
I’m doing some preparation for a talk about the value of taking an entrepreneurial approach to librarianship. Invariably, if you delve into entrepreneurism the topic of innovation enters the conversation. Both of these articles offer some good insights into how design thinking can provide a framework for increasing or stimulating organizational innovation. Hackett is particularly strong on the connection between design thinking and the evolution of an organization. He believes that only the fittest organizations are the ones that survive industry turmoil. Using his own experience as the CEO of Steelcase, an office furniture company, Hackett describes how design thinking was used to keep moving to the next level of organizational fitness. I found it most interesting that he says he first learned about design thinking 20 years ago at the Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design; design thinking is hardly as new an approach as I once thought. For Hackett the most critical aspect of achieving fitness is critical thinking. He provides a path for moving from thinking to implementation in the article.
Sato’s article is the more dense of the two, but he attempts to create a closer relationship between design thinking and innovation, differentiation and simplification. Sato defines design thinking as “a systematic approach that optimizes value to customers with benefits to the company”. He sees the main function of design thinking as providing the balance in deciding what to produce that customers will use with the most effective way of making and offering that new product or service. Sato’s concepts may be best understood by examining figure 4 in his article. It summarizes how design thinking can be applied to innovation, differentiation and simplification. Most of these examples are based on work done at Hewlitt-Packard. As an example of innovation we learn how HP used a design thinking process to automate micro-finance transactions. I found Sato’s article provided a rather difference perspective on design thinking, one I hope to put to use soon.
I hope you’ll have an opportunity to read these two articles. While this special issue of Journal of Business Strategy has several more that focus on design thinking, I’d recommend these two if you have limited reading time. But if you have more time, don’t stop there. Check out some of the other articles as well.