What it is.
Design Thinking is a shorthand that the business world has adopted to describe the combination of creativity and pragmatism that a design mindset brings to the development of new products and services. Like any shorthand, it stands in for a much more expansive knowledge base of principles and practices that designers rely on to solve problems and explore opportunities grounded in how people live, work and play. By carefully understanding unmet needs and imagining and testing what-if solutions, Design Thinking methods consistently lead to solutions that are at once useful (fulfill a need), useable (accessible to all), and desirable (inherently engaging).
How it’s different.
Design Thinking is a toolbox of resources and methods that teams can use to systematically recognize opportunities and solve problems they’ve never seen before. Unlike business thinking, where understanding is derived from a more aggregate view of stakeholders, Design Thinking is obsessive about individual users. It is an intimate process — collaborative, empathetic, visual, iterative — where user insights and epiphanies become the DNA of new or improved experiences. Over time, design has selectively adapted business thinking best practices — replication, scale, measurement — to strengthen its role. We believe this combination of thinking styles is ideal for the work ahead.
Why it works.
And the work ahead is challenging. We inhabit a technology-driven world where sophisticated product and service hybrids are now the norm. In these ecosystems, big ideas don’t just beget objects or apps. They require new markets and business models to ensure that they flourish. Design Thinking is the perfect agile toolset for these hybrid times. It leads toward solutions that bring value to any initiative where a company needs to better understand and relate to their customers. Engaged users are the prize. Product developers have long known that Design Thinking is the ideal way to reach them. Today, Design Thinking is a competitive advantage in any development pursuit where critical thinking is a means to the desired end.
How it changes fortunes.
In a recent study, a major consulting firm showed that S&P 500 businesses who had made a consistent investment in design outperformed their competition by more than 200%. The study included companies where internal teams had developed design competencies themselves, along with those who had become adept at working with external consultants to amplify and accelerate design-led opportunities. Iterative prototyping cycles, one example of Design Thinking in action, equips design leaders with the information necessary to reduce risk by identifying misses early in the process when they are easier to correct. Learning to translate user insights into products and services that create entirely new revenue streams, another Design Thinking superpower, further adds to the 200% advantage.
Why it’s Essential.
Essential has been honing its Design Thinking skills for nearly 20 years. Our client leaders developed their skills with the leading interdisciplinary design firms of their day, where Design Thinking fundamentals were being defined and refined as the world went digital and users asked for more control. They started Essential as a laboratory where their approach to Design Thinking could flourish in a changing world. Now, as interests move toward design for mobility, privacy, sustainability, and inclusion, Essential is also designing new business models to support these initiatives. While the canvas of opportunity is more expansive, the desire by users at the center to be well-served persists.
Essential Design is a Boston-based design firm that is now part of PA Consulting. Our team of research, design, and engineering professionals partners with clients to solve complex innovation challenges through integrated physical, digital, and service experiences.
Want more Design Thinking? Click below for thought pieces, case studies and some of our favorite resources.