One of the knocks against design thinking is that it’s too much about thinking and too little about taking practical action – getting things done. I wrote about this reaction, which calls into question the value of design thinking, and suggested that we needed to focus more on the design approach as a practical method for putting our design thinking tools and techniques to work. In seeking out more ideas on how to accomplish this I acquired a copy of “Designing for Growth: A Design Toolkit for Managers.”. I believe the book has lived up to expectations. Of the numerous books and articles I’ve read about design thinking, this one is the best at providing a concrete approach to applying design thinking in your practice. Yet in many ways the book sticks to the blueprint for design thinking, albeit broken down into more steps with a variety of techniques organized into “ten tools”.
Let me give you an example. In the classic IDEO method, the first phase of the design thinking process is to be an empathic designer – to put yourself into the place of the end user of your service or product. As was famously said about designers in the Deep Dive video by David Kelley, “We not experts at anything. The only things we’re experts at is the design process.” The video then goes on to illustrate how designers go out into the field to study the existing experience and learn from the experts – those who either create or use the product or service. The second tool in the Toolkit is Journey Mapping. This is an exercise the design team conducts to create a graphic flowchart of the customer’s experience as he or she interacts with the products and services provided by the library. The whole point of Mapping is to deeply understand things from the point of view of the end user. What’s the first tool? That’s another thing I really liked; it’s visualization. The authors, right off the bat, emphasize the importance of visual communication throughout the design process. There’s a chapter dedicated to each of the ten tools, and the one on visualization even has some sketching tips.
Many of the steps, processes and tools discussed in the book really connect back to the basic fundamentals of design thinking. The difference is in the way the ideas, practices and techniques are organized around four phases of the design process: (1) What Is? (2) What If? (3) What Wows? (4) What Works. It’s interesting that steps one and two are all about discovering what the gap is between the problem and potential solution. Again, that’s classic design thinking. What Wows is all about prototyping, and What Works is about implementation and evaluation. It’s all there. That said, I see this book as being somewhat different from others on design thinking. Others, like The Art of Innovation or The Design of Business, are more like straight read throughs. This book really is more like a toolkit. You just use your hammer or screwdriver when you need it to get a job done; you don’t take out every tool in the box. Likewise, if I just want to invite our community members to work with us in developing a new service, I can just make use of the chapter on customer co-creation. It offers me the steps I need to follow to get this done successfully. While some may come away with the impression that the book is a bit on the busy side and that there are many possible distractions within the book, I tend to prefer the many sidebars used throughout the book. They may be a bit of a distraction on the first reading, but then you discover there’s lots of practical advice and ideas found within those sidebars.
If you want to get a taste of the book Designing for Growth, you may want to read an article based on the book, “Learning to use design thinking tools for successful innovation” that was authored by Jeanne Liedtka in the journal Strategy & Leadership (Vol. 39 No. 5, pgs. 13-19). It is behind a paywall, and your library may or may not provide access (NOTE: it can be “rented” for $3.99 via DeepDyve if that option works for you). When librarians ask me to provide more practical ideas for how they can implement design thinking in their libraries, I’m going to point them to Designing for Growth. I think the authors are on the right track when it comes to moving potential design thinkers from thinking to doing.