Get Creative

Improve your business by thinking like a designer

Back Commentary Sep 1, 2014 By Christine Calvin

Thomas Edison is most often credited with inventing a thing, the light bulb. But if you really take a look at what Edison did, you’ll see he was able to envision not only the technology, but also how people would use it and why they would benefit from its use. What he actually created was a product with a fully realized marketplace.

Edison’s approach was an early example of a concept that has since been dubbed “design thinking” — a creative manner of problem-solving that places the user at the center of the experience. It’s observing what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular products are made, packaged, marketed and delivered.

Businesses and leaders who can understand and execute this philosophy stand to vastly improve their outcomes in an ever-changing, ever-growing marketplace. That’s why we involved designers, photographers, writers, developers, programmers and media experts when we redesigned comstocksmag.com. It’s also the reason we partnered this month with the American Institute of Architects Central Valley Chapter to celebrate architecture, design and creative thinking.

Architecture firms have for decades been using design to solve problems and improve outcomes in buildings by using technologies, materials and external factors to improve a project’s energy efficiency, increase natural light and improve views. You can see examples of such design thinking in action through our photo essay on modernist architectural solutions. (Pro-tip: Sign up for our e-newsletter and we’ll let you know when our print stories hit the web.)

So how do you adopt this kind of design thinking in your own company? To start, you involve designers at every stage of the development of your brand’s product or service. Rather than asking designers to make an already-developed idea more attractive to consumers, smart companies use them at the onset to spark concepts that better meet customers’ needs and desires. That’s how companies like Misfit, VSP Global and CBRE ended up with workspace layouts that increase employee productivity and engagement (check out “Wide-Open Spaces,” available online next week).

Design thinking blends art, business savvy and an astute understanding of customers and markets. It goes beyond product and service development and can provide tremendous advantages to management and organizational behavior.

Many managers, if they really stepped back and evaluated their processes, would see that they have become locked in a mechanical frame of mind. They set fixed, quantified goals, like reducing production costs by 5 percent or increasing customer satisfaction by 15 points. Then, they maneuver the organization and processes to achieve those goals in the most efficient manner possible. That sort of thinking assumes that any management challenge offers a clearly defined problem and a linear solution.

That approach works fine and dandy in predictable, stable markets. But how often is that the case? A manager who approaches problems with an open-ended process that allows for multiple possibilities to coexist and play off one another opens up her organization to a greater likelihood of finding solutions and creating new value.

Readers interested in learning more about design thinking and creative processes should mark their calendars for next month’s AIACV Experience Architecture Week (Oct. 10-19), which will include interactive events, tours and films. On Tues., Oct. 14, Scott Paterson, a project lead at world-renowned design firm IDEO, will be leading a talk on design thinking at Sacramento State. To sign up or to learn more about Experience Architecture Week, flip through this month’s pages or visit aiacv.org.


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Will Rodriguez (not verified)September 2, 2014 - 12:44pm

I believe design thinking has an effect well beyond engaging designers to create collaborative work spaces and influence the organizational behavior of a company. When done right, companies will put emphasis on empowering all their employees (not just designers) to present creative ideas to solve day-to-day problems. For the real innovative leaders, design-thinking has become part of the culture as well as its strategy as a company.