Design Doing: The Missing Component of Design Thinking

March 27, 2019

Design doing

“Design doing” is the process of making business better by applying and sticking to the principles of design thinking. Action over theory is what has the real capacity to transform businesses.

In most manifestations of design-led processes, there are stages of customer and idea exploration (divergent) followed by homing in and making decisions (convergent). I’ve found that many organizations are afraid of conflict and therefore the process breaks down. This is what is referred to as “the messy middle” by Scott Belsky in his book The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture (Portfolio, 2018).

The answer is to put more weight on action, number of experiments, and things the team learned amid failures. That is where design doing takes things one step further. The answer is to measure the ROI on design doing initiatives so that further design thinking and doing is easier to sell to corporate leaders.

Defining the process of design doing

Design doing is not merely hiring a consulting firm to conduct a training session. It’s not checking the “design thinking” box. It’s not fuzzy, and it’s not hard to understand or to sell to a skeptical business leader.

It is what drives companies to new heights. It’s what spurs promotions. It is implementable enterprise-wide, with the real potential to transform people, processes, careers, and bottom lines. According to a study unveiled in October 2018 by McKinsey, which was conducted with 300 public companies, those with a strong sense of commitment to design thinking and follow-through had 32 percentage points higher revenue growth and 56 percentage points higher total returns to shareholders growth.

This means that in the design thinking process, you must get distracted. You must go down rabbit holes that seem like they have no meaning. Observe the unobservable. It means getting down on the floor and engaging in the nitty-gritty of business processes and customer relationships. All of this must be within reason, but sweating this essence and these details is the difference between a customer-obsessed design-led organization that thrives or simply talks the talk.

Celebrate not knowing something—especially if you are the boss. Discovery and trust are the eureka moments that await you as you let your guard down.

Design doing is not just thinking differently but behaving differently. It doesn’t end with theories, seminars, and whiteboards. It continues with monitoring and tracking systems to measure how and whether people are actually changing behaviors to become more agile, creative, and customer-centered. It follows up with communication and shared learnings to reinforce the lessons imparted in those design thinking educational sessions.

Involving top management in design doing

Design doing also involves people, especially high-level executives—who need to leave their C-suite enclaves and head to the front lines. This is critical and powerful in igniting the mindset shift that leads to real results. Only when top management has experienced what happens when they interact with customers can design doing gain significant traction in an enterprise. Many leaders find this uncomfortable, but it works and works well.

When someone who ordinarily reports only to the CEO or a board of directors finds him- or herself reporting to a customer, the results can be phenomenal. Direct one-on-one feedback from customers has exceptional power to move business leaders. Attitudes shift, projects get funded, change happens. Another thing that happens is that curiosity becomes engaged. Creativity gets aroused, and people start asking questions.

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About The Author

Pete Sena is CEO and chief creative officer of Digital Surgeons, a consultancy that provides services such as naming and brand positioning; voice and tone; visual identity and design systems; inbound marketing strategy; and content strategy.

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