Tag Archives: merholz

The Design Of Business – And Concerns About “Design Thinking”

Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto, has just authored a new book titled The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage , and I was looking forward to reading it. BusinessWeek has a short article by Martin that shares some ideas from the book, and now I am really looking forward to reading it. In this article Martin talks about two different business models that are in conflict, the analytical (left brain) model and the intuitive (right brain) model. Since neither may ultimately work out, Martin suggests bringing them together in a new model:

The most successful businesses in the years to come will balance analytical mastery and intuitive originality in a dynamic interplay that I call design thinking. Design thinking is the form of thought that enables forward movement of knowledge, and the firms that master it will gain a nearly inexhaustible, long-term business advantage.

It seems to carry forward the ideas Martin discussed in The Opposable Mind. I’ll be glad to read more about this. You can also view a video interview that BusinessWeek conducted with Martin.

And while Martin is promoting his book on design thinking, others are questioning the value of the idea – or at least calling it design thinking. Perter Merholz of Adaptive Path has written a column titled “Why Design Thinking Won’t Save You ” in which he advocates for rethinking the use of “design thinking” as a strategy business can turn to when all else is failing. He writes (in a nicely sarcastic tone):

Design thinking is trotted out as a salve for businesses who need help with innovation. The idea is that the left-brained, MBA-trained, spreadsheet-driven crowd has squeezed all the value they can out of their methods. To fix things, all you need to do is apply some right-brained turtleneck-wearing “creatives,” “ideating” tons of concepts and creating new opportunities for value out of whole cloth.

Merholz finds “design thinking” to be too limiting. It’s not just about design, he says, but about the many different disciplines that are a part of what designers do – and that includes business. He writes, “The supposed dichotomy between “business thinking” and “design thinking” is foolish.”

I think I get what bugs Merholz about design thinking. It’s not just a designer’s backlash over non-designers taking ownership of what designers do without having the required skill set. He seems genuinely concerned that business is taking ownership of a flawed concept, one that may be seen as an end in and of itself – not a part of other strategies that involve many different types of skill sets. The comments to the column are as important to read as the post itself. Here is what I added to the comments:

As a librarian I found it interesting that you chose to mention librarians in your post and that we don’t have anything we refer to as “library thinking”. However, many librarians only think like librarians when it comes to developing solutions to problems. Too often that means assuming you know – because you are a librarian – that you understand users and know what they need. There is little investment in spending time to really identify the problem. I have found design thinking a useful model process for learning how designers approach problems and develop solutions. One of the most important things I’ve learned from watching the “Deep Dive” video is that great solutions emerge from interdisciplinary teams, and that is a real challenge in libraries because we all tend to think the same way – but we also all have different disciplinary backgrounds – but we may fail to use those approaches when we have a problem. So I have found it helpful to share the idea of design thinking with my library colleagues – not as an end in itself – but as a means to some other end – be it understanding a problem and developing an appropriate solution or working towards a better library experience for the end user.

I would hate to see the community that is interested in design thinking get into feud over what it is, who can practice it, when it’s accurate to use it or not, or whatever sort of issues might come up. As one commenter pointed out, it’s still a concept in development. I look forward to future opportunities to learn more about design thinking and how we can apply it in our libraries – as opposed to whatever we do now – which I guess you’d call “library thinking.”

Debating An Authentic Experience

Starbucks recently tried something new, which they often do, and you wouldn’t think that would generate a controversial discussion about the nature of the user experience but it did. As one of the original poster children of the user experience, Starbucks has of late lost some degree of its UX mojo. Certainly the recession has played some role in driving customers to competitors such as McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts or in eliminating coffee purchases altogether. But Starbucks has itself made some moves that have contributed to the diminishing of their special user experience. Some analysts point to the addition of breakfast sandwiches. Others ask if Starbucks has diluted its experience by introducing innovations to speed up transactions.

A number of these questions were directed to Howard Schultz, founder and current CEO of Starbucks, in an interview with BusinessWeek. It is clear that Schultz is determined to somehow take a corporate behemoth that has had to introduce efficiency measures to remain competitive, and get back to the original vision of a coffee house based on delivering a unique user experience. So Schultz did something interesting. He asked Starbucks employees to share their vision of a coffeeshop that would compete with Starbucks. Schultz was looking for ideas that move Starbucks in a new direction. “You want to be there,” he says. “To me that store reinforces all the things I believe in. It’s not marketing, research, consultants, it’s just the experience.” [Schultz said this in the interview when he described a new ice cream store he visited that reminded him of what Starbucks was when it began]

Schultz’s search for a more authentic coffeehouse experience lead Starbucks to open a new outlet in Seattle called 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea. The idea is to provide a new coffeeshop experience that gets back to the original Starbucks vision. Things became interesting when Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path wrote a blog post in which he responded to this whole concept of a corporate-designed “authenic” coffeeshop experience. Merholz questioned whether such a thing is even possible, and concluded that it is not. He basically said it is “doomed to fail”. Merholz raises a good question. Can you set out, as a large entity, to design an experience that should seemingly only be possible if there’s real passion and originality to the concept? The experience has to emerge from a unique set of circumstances that one can’t simply program the way a film set is designed to simulate a time or place. Can Home Depot design a small Main Street hardware store experience into its big-box store setting anymore than Starbucks can design a local, independent coffeeshop vibe into its new store?

Merholz makes some good points when he claims you can’t fake an experience and that it’s dishonest for Starbucks to call itself another name when it’s still Starbucks at the core. Take a look at Merholz’s post and a follow-up in which he responds to some of the many comments he received, and shares some new perspectives on this issue of delivering an authentic experience. The lesson I’d like to take away from all of this is how can we librarians be savvy about designing an authentic library experience.

My thinking is that the authentic library experience is designed around the practices of totality, relationship building and delivering meaning. The latter two are things that should come naturally to library workers, and we need to become more systematic in making them happen. Totality is harder to achieve and something we need to do better. Where a library might run into danger with authenticity is trying to replicate the experience of a service or retailer known for designing great user experiences. But that particular experience may prove to be a poor fit for the library. It doesn’t necessarily matter what the size of the library is; a larger research university can be just of capable of creating a unique experience as is the small-town public library. But each must work at designing an experience that is authentic – driven by the passion of the library workers. Know the users. Be clear about core values. Any number of DBL posts have communicated that message. This one reinforces it.