Wherefore art thou, Design Thinking?

Why does it seem that so many businesses, both new and old, big and small fail to utilize Design Thinking (or some iteration of it)?  I have worked for both large and small organizations, and I now work for myself, and until very recently, Design Thinking was an unknown tool to foster empathy and creativity.  Companies that implement a design thinking process outperform the S&P index by 219% (1), gain 1.5 times the market share compared to non-design led companies (2), and improve team cohesiveness in company culture (3); so why does it appear to be so sparsely used?  We know major companies like Airbnb, Apple, IBM, Intuit, Microsoft, and Nike are successfully using the Design Thinking process, but where do the rest of land, and why is there difficulty making the jump?

The Design Thinking Process

The Design Thinking Process

While it’s difficult to find data on the number of firms that utilize Design Thinking, a 2015 study (3) of over 200 firms that employ the Design Thinking process found that 75% of the respondents had been using Design Thinking for less than 4 years, and 25% had been doing so for less than a year!  Of those using Design thinking, 43% learned the process at a formal educational institution, 24% were self-taught, and 14% had coaches within their organization.   

The study identifies that a majority of firms that have been using Design Thinking have been doing so for less than four years, and these leaders learned the process at school or are self-taught.  It’s no wonder the majority of firms aren’t using Design Thinking: they may not have even heard of it!

This conclusion seems inline with my personal experience, too.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with some extremely talented people that ran the gamut of the hierarchy totem pole.  Most of them were open to new ideas, and the managers fostered a supportive environment.  These colleagues would have likely implemented Design Thinking if they had known about it and its inherent benefits. It would appear that the first step to implementing a Design Thinking process may be to introduce the Design Thinking process.  But, what if your colleagues aren’t so receptive?  What may be holding them back? 

Some leadership may be hesitant to adopt a Design Thinking process because they’ve only heard the term used as a buzzword or seen the process misapplied.  In these cases, sharing data from real companies that utilize the Design Thinking process successfully (Nike, Apple, Microsoft, etc.) and how your company can also implement the process may help rectify some of the confusion.

Some leadership may also be unclear on how to implement the process.  The best advice is to try it out!  Start with a small internal problem (say, an issue with the cafeteria) and step through the process with a team.  See how all the steps fit together.  Sometimes walking through the whole process can cement the bridge between theory and application.

When it’s time to learn more, there are plenty of online resources to begin your journey.  IDEO, Intuit, New Foundry, and many others have a form of Design Thinking that may be perfect for your organization.  It takes time and commitment to introduce Design Thinking, but the rewards are well established. 

Axon tries to provide the motive, means, and opportunity for all of its employees to implement Design Thinking on opportunities they see within the company.  Fostering this type of environment helps fresh perspectives and new ideas flow in from all levels of the company, making us stronger and more united. 


1 Design Management Institute

2 https://blogs.adobe.com/creative/design-advantage/

3 J. Schmiedgen, et al.  Parts without a whole?  The current state of design thinking practice in organizations. 2015. http://sds.parsons.edu/designmanagement/new-study-on-design-thinking/