Implementing Design Thinking 1: Focus on the Outcome not the Process

One of the challenges of implementing Design Thinking is that Design Thinking can come across as a rather intellectual and academic exercise. Strange terminologies, divergent activities, new processes etc; who can blame them for thinking so?
In my humble opinion, Design Thinking needs to stop focusing on the process and be more about the outcome. In other words, Design Thinking needs to become more results-orientated. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about ROI here. ROI kills Design Thinking or any creative process out right. What I’m on about is for us to define what we want to achieve with Design Thinking instead. This flips the activity from something that provides a “means to an end” to having an “end that justifies the (chaotic) means”.
I’ll also go as far as saying that it is not really that important which Design Thinking process you choose to use. In fact any of the 40,700,000 “Design Thinking Process” hits you can find on Google will be fine. Why? Well, what they don’t tell you is that most of the Design Thinking Processes out there are pretty much all the same.
As I mentioned before:

Design (Thinking) is an iterative activity that only has broad guidelines but no fixed process.

So why do people tend to focus more on the process than on the results? I can think of 2 reasons.
The first one is that implementation Design Thinking can be a rather long and arduous process. Naturally so as the Design Thinking approach can find lots of places and problems to add value to. Unfortunately this sometimes happens very far down (or up) the food chain, so much so that the immediate outcome is unclear. So as they say, “lets enjoy the process” shall we?
There is some truth in that saying; however, this is where Design Thinking starts to break down. If Design Thinking is left on its own to add value where it can and in all possible places in an organization, it will end up doing nothing substantial. Design Thinking needs to be better structured by defining the results you want to achieve, and then let the process naturally move towards it.
My second reason goes along the same lines, but it revolves around fear, the fear that Design Thinking can become a never-ending iterative activity. And it can. Designers naturally get this and are comfortable with it, but business people find it hard to accept. So what ends up happening is we go back to the process (often over relying on it) to justify what we are doing. While this approach works, we need to ensure that we keep an eye out on the end goal.
In conclusion whenever you talk Design Thinking, always talk about it in context of the objective. If there is isn’t one, make sure you come up with one. Doing so takes us one step closer to making Design Thinking a more credible activity to the unconverted.
Implementing Design Thinking is a regular series of posts, where I share my thoughts and experiences in helping companies implement Design as a tool for business success and achieving Design Leadership. Check out the rest of my articles here.

  • Jon Klokov

    August 8, 2013 at 7:42 am Reply

    Creativity is good, but it still requires direction. It’s hard to sit down and just “create”…you need direction, an idea, a goal, or something to achieve. Great article.

  • Samuel Glasgow

    December 1, 2011 at 4:46 pm Reply

    Out of curiousity, isn’t it best never to stop Design Thinking? But rather than getting bogged down with every nook, cranny and facet of a project, just to store extraneous information/ideas on the side? This way if the business aspect gets concerned that A: there is another route, and B: you have more personal material?

  • Arjun Adamson

    October 26, 2011 at 8:03 am Reply

    Very true.
    There’s only so much process you can have before something is bound to be miscalculated, and end up misaligned from your intent. In my opinion, the key is to use intuition, be present, and learn through the process of doing with the ability to steer towards your goal. Utilize your tools to augment, not to regiment.

  • Aman Anderson

    October 25, 2011 at 1:29 am Reply

    This is great!
    I like this quote; “Design (Thinking) is an iterative activity that only has broad guidelines but no fixed process.”

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