Capturing the Value of Design Thinking in Different Innovation Practices
Maaike Kleinsmann 1,*, Rianne Valkenburg 2, and Janneke Sluijs 3
1 Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands.
2 LightHouse/ expertise in smart lighting & smart cities @ TU/e, TU/e Innovation Lab, Eindhoven, The Netherlands.
3 Designerly Innovation research group, The Hague University of Applied Sciences, The Hague, The Netherlands.
Design thinking has become a popular notion in the field of innovation. What is design thinking really and—even more important—what could be its value in applying it in innovation practices? This paper presents four studies that together capture the value of design thinking in different early-stage innovation practices. Study 1 comprised a literature review on design thinking to form the basis of an agreed domain of discourse for design thinking in innovation. In Study 2, this shared domain of discourse was validated. This shared domain of discourse provided the input for Study 3, which investigated how innovators apply design thinking in early-stage innovation practices. It shows that the application of design thinking is dependent on the innovator’s aim for the project, his or her vision on innovation, and the main challenge s/he is facing. This combination of characteristics is termed an image of design thinking. The images frame the application design activities in the context of the specific innovation project. Study 4 successfully validated the four images and shows that the combination of the images and the agreed domain of discourse can serve as a common language and a tool that allow capturing the value of design thinking in early-stage innovation.
Keywords – Design Thinking, Design Activity, Design Expertise, Innovation Practices.
Relevance to Design Practice – The four images of design thinking (= the combination of the aim of the innovation project, the vision on innovation and the main challenge) together with the developed card deck (48 cards) serve as a common language and tool that supports capturing the value of design thinking in innovation.
Citation: Kleinsmann, M., Valkenburg, R., & Sluijs, J. (2017). Capturing the value of design thinking in different innovation practices. International Journal of Design, 11(2), 25-40.
Received September 14, 2016; Accepted April 22, 2017; Published August 31, 2017.
Copyright: © 2017 Kleinsmann, Valkenburg, & Sluijs. Copyright for this article is retained by the authors, with first publication rights granted to the International Journal of Design. All journal content, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License. By virtue of their appearance in this open-access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings.
*Corresponding Author: M.firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Ir. Maaike Kleinsmann is an Associate Professor in design-driven innovation at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology. Her research concentrates on the role of design thinking in digital innovation, aiming to develop and test methods that equip industrial designers to innovate within a connected world. She published her work also in other well-known design journals such as Design Studies and CoDesign. She has also ample experience in supporting practitioners involved in innovation projects to improve their collaborative- and design thinking practices. Her work on design thinking in innovation resulted in a book titled: Images of Design Thinking. Maaike holds a master’s degree in Industrial Design Engineering from Delft University of Technology (2000), and a PhD on collaborative design (2006).
Dr. Ir. Rianne Valkenburg is founder and value producer of LightHouse /expertise in smart lighting & smart cities @ TU/e. She is an experienced innovator, focussing on creating meaning for society through new technological solutions. In urban space—the domain of smart lighting and smart city solutions—she supports municipalities, organisations and companies to think and act future proof. She is especially interested in bringing people together and jointly create opportunities to implement new solutions and services that add value for all. Rianne practices design driven innovation, designed and tested in years of experience, both as scientist and as advisor. As Professor of Designerly Innovation at The Hague University of Applied Sciences (2009–2017), her main research focus was design thinking in innovation. This resulted in the book Images of Design Thinking, published by Boom.
Janneke Sluijs is researcher and teacher at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. In her activities for the University, she brings passionate people together in a productive way. Her approach is human centred and characterized by an open and curious mind-set. In her activities for the research group, Designerly Innovation, she has interviewed practitioners on their design approach in innovation. This has resulted in a book publication titled Images of Design Thinking. She is engaged in educational innovation and teaching in the international bachelor Industrial Design Engineering. Janneke holds a bachelor’s degree in Engineering (2009) and an MBA in Imagineering, Business Innovation from the Experience Perspective (2015).
Recently, practitioners and scholars in an array of non-design sectors have become interested in the concept of design thinking, because they want to tap into designers’ problem-solving strategies and benefit from design as an agent of change (Stewart, 2011).
Managers and management scholars are particularly attracted to the concept of design thinking, as the recent financial crisis has forced them to look for new strategies to survive within the competitive landscape (e.g., Kimbel, 2009; Liedtka, 2004). While applying design thinking, managers find that this approach empowers them to develop new or alternative solutions to their management problems. Additionally, the management field is interested in adopting design thinking as a powerful way of working that can promote and support innovation (see e.g., Beckman & Barry, 2007; Boland & Collopy, 2004; Lockwood, 2010; Martin, 2009a, 2009b; Meyer & Marion, 2010; Seidel & Fixson, 2013). Innovation refers to the core renewal process in an organisation resulting in new products and services that create value for both the user and the company (Bessant, Lamming, Noke, & Phillips, 2005). Managers more and more often see design thinking as a way to create this value (Hassi & Laakso, 2011; Rae, 2016).
At the same time, the world of (industrial) design is expanding due to social, cultural and technological transformations in the late 20th century (Buchanan, 1992; Stewart, 2011). These transformations radically changed assumptions about value creation that stem from the industrialisation of societies (Brand & Rocchi, 2011). Global access to the Internet and Web 2.0 has transformed the way value is created. Value production is no longer solely in the hands of large companies as consumers are gaining access to more and more tools for value production.
Design practitioners such as Kelly (2005) and Brown (2009) adeptly anticipated these technological and social developments by broadening the scope of their working field. For instance, in his book Change by Design, Brown shows how design thinking could be a major lever for change by using design as a systematic tool for managing the innovation portfolio. The ideas of Kelly and Brown on design and design thinking originated in the design research community, which has a long-standing research tradition in investigating how designers think and act while designing products and buildings (within an industrial economy). This research community coined the approach to designing products as ‘design thinking’, a term first used by Archer (1979).
These two inherently different ‘worlds’, the world of design and the world of management, that are interested in design thinking meet each other in early-stage innovation practices. The innovation practices include opportunity identification, opportunity analysis, idea generation, idea selection, and concept and technology development (Koen et al., 2001). This is the phase in which strategy (developed by managers) and product (and service) development (created by designers) are integrated (Koen et al., 2001; Moenaert et al., 1995). Therefore, this study focuses on the innovation practices in the early stage of innovation. Due to their different roles in innovation, designers and managers have different interpretations of what design thinking means within innovation practices. For managers, design thinking means creating and applying strategies by taking a designerly approach. For designers, design thinking means the approach designers take while designing products (and services). To harness the business opportunities offered by employing design thinking in the field of innovation it is important to gain a better understanding of the concept of design thinking and its method of application in the early stage of innovation.
Research Design and Paper Structure
This paper presents four interconnected studies, which together capture the value of applying design thinking in innovation practices. To be able to investigate the application of design thinking during these innovation practices, there is a need for an agreed domain of discourse, since design thinking is ambiguous in nature and there is no uniform notion of what design thinking is (see e.g., Hassi & Laakso, 2011; Johansson-Sköldberg, Woodilla & Çetinkaya, 2013). In Study 1, we address this need, performing a literature study on design thinking in the fields of design and management. Study 1 resulted in a card set consisting of 48 design activities representing design thinking. Study 2 validated this card set as an agreed domain of discourse. Study 3 aimed to capture the value of design thinking in different innovation practices. We used the card set (agreed domain of discourse) to elicit stories from 33 innovators who reflected on their innovation practices and the value of design thinking within those practices. The results of Study 3 show that the application of design thinking is dependent on the innovator’s aim for the project, his or her vision on innovation, and the main challenge s/he is facing. This set of characteristics is termed an image of design thinking. The value of the images of design thinking is that they show how and for what purpose innovators use design thinking within innovation. Study 4 validates these images by testing if other innovators could identify with one of the images and the corresponding activities. The results of Study 4 show that this validation is successful. The paper ends with a discussion on the four studies and the value of design thinking in innovation practices.
Study 1: Towards an Agreed Domain of Discourse on Design Thinking
The introduction explains that design thinking is a multifaceted concept that comes in many different shapes and forms. It also shows that the ambiguous nature of design thinking results in different discourses on design thinking (Johansson-Sköldberg et al., 2013). To have a valuable discussion about design thinking in innovation, it is essential to understand the discourses in the two different communities and to develop an agreed domain of discourse.
Within Management literature, the conceptualisations of design thinking vary from high-level definitions such as design thinking as the “transfer of the organisation’s design philosophy into design activities and outputs” (Chen & Venkatesh, 2013, p. 1682) to descriptions of design thinking as a set of formal design methods such as the need for finding, brainstorming and prototyping (see e.g., Seidel & Fixson, 2013). In addition to the formal design methods, management scholars also highlight the designer’s mind-set or design attitude; that is, the desire to do something differently (Boland & Colopy, 2004, p. 3) is an important aspect of design thinking. The design research community has used the term design thinking since the 1980s (Archer, 1979; Rowe, 1987) and scholars have organised symposia on design thinking from 1991 onwards (Cross, Dorst, & Roozenburg, 1992; Dorst, 2011). Over time, multiple conceptualisations of design thinking were developed and they still coexist. Cross (2011), for example, defined design thinking as “the core creative process for any designer” (p. 1). He calls this core creative process “design ability”. He stated that the most direct approach to inquiring into design ability is asking designers what they do (Cross, 2011, p. 8). In doing so, he makes a close connection between design thinking and design acting or doing. Dorst (2011) focuses more on the cognitive aspect of design thinking. He builds on the work of Roozenburg and Eekels (1995), who state that design thinking consists of multiple cognitive activities comprising inductive, deductive and abductive forms of reasoning. More recently, Blizzard et al. (2015) determined five characteristics of design thinking: (1) collaboration, (2) experimentalism, (3) optimism, (4) feedback-seeking, and (5) integrative thinking. By highlighting the integrative power of a designer, they put the design thinker in a social context in which s/he operates.
While analysing the different conceptualisations of design thinking, we realised that commonalities are found in the abstraction of (parts of) the ways professional designers think and work, which in this paper we frame as design expertise (Adams, Daly, Mann, & Dall’Alba, 2011; Cross, 2011; Kimbell, 2011). Design expertise is the way expert designers execute design processes and the strategies they use to develop solutions for the design task at hand (for an overview see Cross, 2004, 2007; Lawson & Dorst, 2009). Researchers study expert designers to identify ‘best practices’ for designing (Cross & Cross, 1998). They describe the activities designers engage in while executing their design task. This study uses the literature on design expertise for building an agreed domain of discourse about design thinking in innovation (see: Ball, Ormerod & Morley, 2004; Brown, 2009; Cross, 1986, 2004, 2011; Cross, Dorst, & Christiaans, 1996; Dorst & Cross, 2001; Dorst, 2003; Dorst, 2011; Kruger & Cross, 2006; Lawson, 2004; Petre, 2004). We chose this approach since the extensive body of knowledge on design expertise generates a solid base from which to start. Especially, because this is a field in design research where authors build on each other’s work and the different authors have consensus on what the act of designing comprises. We analysed this literature and distilled all design activities present in this literature. To ensure that we did not omit important design activities mentioned in the management literature, we also reviewed contemporary books and articles from management sciences on design thinking and listed the design activities, related to design expertise, that were mentioned (Boland & Collopy, 2004; Hargadon & Sutton, 1997; Martin, 2009a; 2009b; Verganti, 2009).
From the reviewed papers and books, we identified 118 design activities. While analysing this list of activities, we noticed that, although the wording of some activities differed, the meaning was (almost) the same. Consequently, we (as expert design researchers) grouped the design activities according to their similarity in meaning. Accordingly, we formulated the design activities in such a way that it expressed the meaning of the design activities in each group as saliently as we could. An example of a description of a design activity is ‘bridge different languages’. This design activity was elicited from a group with the following design activities: ‘is able to read different types of drawings’, ‘functions as a bridge between disciplines’, ‘is a knowledge broker’ and ‘functions as an interpreter’. Some activities although closely related were conceptually different (e.g., ‘iterate between design problem and its solution’ and ‘let the design problem and solution co-evolve’). In such cases, we kept the two design activities. This ensure that we would not merge concepts that could have different interpretations for different people. The grouping and reformulation process resulted in descriptions of 48 design activities (see Appendix A). The descriptions of the 48 design activities are comparable to the formulations in the literature on design expertise on which we drew.
The 48 design activities formed the basis for the design of a card set. Each card within the set consists of a description of one design activity (see Appendix A). To enrich the descriptions of the design activity, we complemented each card with a drawing representing the activity (see Figure 1). A design professional who is an expert in representing complex information in visual form made the drawings. He collaborated with the research team to reach consensus about the fit between the drawing and the design activity on the card. Two iterations were required to reach consensus. The first iteration led to changes in the content of the drawing and the second iteration led to an improvement in details. The card set is the result of Study 1 and its aim is to function as an agreed domain of discourse on design thinking in innovation, which we will test in Study 2.
Study 2: Testing the Agreed Domain of Discourse with Domain Experts and Affected Users
Having created the card set we needed to test it to ascertain if it could function as an agreed domain of discourse for design thinking. Thus, Study 2 was undertaken. For that study, we set up interviews in which we asked the questions shown in Table 1.
|1. The interviewer asked for biographical information to see if the respondent matches the criteria set for the study.|
|2. To get familiarised with the card set and to create a focus, the interviewer asked the respondent to:|
|a. Divide the cards in two stacks: activities that are essential for design thinking and activities that are not essential for design thinking. (The interviewer gave the card set in a random order to each respondent.)|
|b. The interviewer asked the respondent to think of additional design activities needed to execute his or her job in a designerly manner. If there were additional activities, the respondent could add these on empty cards to the card set.|
|c. The interviewer asked the respondent to select the ten unique activities for design thinking from the selection of the essential and added cards.|
|3. The interviewer asked questions about the completeness, accuracy of the card set by evaluating the interview approach, and the card set with the respondent to see if the approach allowed for a discourse on design thinking in innovation.|
Data Sampling and Collection
According to Milton (2007), an agreed domain of discourse should involve domain experts and affected users. In this study, we tested the card set with both groups.
Data Sampling Domain Experts
We conducted interviews with 21 scholars from the fields of both design and management who engage in research on design thinking in the context of early-stage innovation. We considered these scholars to be domain experts in the field of early-stage innovation. We selected scholars who study design expertise and the way designers apply their expertise in their design practices. Additionally, we selected management scholars who were interested in design thinking as a different approach to doing business. Appendix B provides a detailed overview of the scholars selected. The scholars originate from different disciplines. Their expertise range from product design, design engineering, architecture, arts, management and business. The scientific discourse of design and management scholars is often found in international scientific conferences, demonstrating the wide variety of geographical locations of these scholars. Each scholar was interviewed individually using the interview method as shown in Table 1.
Data Sampling Affected Users
The affected users in this study are innovators who apply design thinking in their daily innovation practice. Tapping into our rich network, we started the study with innovators from our own network who claim that they use design thinking in their innovation practices. While recruiting the innovators, we purposefully sought people who execute innovation projects within a variety of functional areas and organisational positions within companies and innovation consultancy agencies. We did this to cover different possible views on design thinking in innovation. Then we did ‘snowball sampling’, which provided us with names from our network of innovators that would fit our sample. This strategy resulted in interviews with 33 innovators. Appendix C provides a detailed overview of the innovators. The overview includes their function, country of origin, innovation focus or expertise and sector per the Global Industry Classification Standard. The overview shows a wide variety of application areas such as the industrials, consumer discretionary and staples, healthcare, information technologies and financials sectors. Many affected users are in the research & consulting services in the industrial sector. These include, for example, consultants who have developed a focus and expertise in innovation with the use of design thinking. A column was added to indicate their innovation focus or expertise. This is the service that they provide or the focus of their work. The focus or expertise of our sample ranges from strategic to practical and from service-oriented to product-oriented. The geographical locations of the sample show a focus on Western Europe (NL, DE, SE, GB, DK with several innovators from the US) with the addition that, although based in a region, their organisation often operates worldwide. The overview shows that the sample of affected users is wide in both its application area and the innovators’ focus and expertise. Innovators were interviewed individually at their workplace using the interview questions shown in Table 1.
There are two quality indicators for an agreed domain of discourse: completeness and accuracy (Milton, 2007): both are addressed in Study 2. We used completeness as a quality indicator to check that we had not overlooked important design activities. Additionally, we checked whether we had used the concept of design thinking too broadly by describing it with 48 different design activities. To evaluate if all aspects of design thinking are fully articulated by the card set we, first, created an overview that shows what cards the two groups labelled as (non)-essential for design thinking. This allowed us to understand how broadly the respondents see the concept of design thinking. Secondly, we made an overview of which ten cards they found unique for design thinking. We executed this step since a high degree of agreement among respondents, on the unique aspects of design thinking, could be an indicator that the set of 48 design activities could be reduced. Finally, we made an overview of cards that the respondents added to the card set.
We used accuracy as a criterion to check if the design activities, that were formulated and the drawings made by the design professional, captured the intended meanings. Subsequently, accuracy was reached when the meaning manifested in each of the cards is similar to the meaning the scholars assign to the individual cards. To evaluate the accuracy of the card set, we analysed how the two groups interpreted the statements on the cards, how they would apply the design activity on the card and if this application is in line with the activities that we expected.
Results Study 2
Analysis of the Completeness of the Card Set
Completeness According to the Domain Experts ( = The Scholars)
As a group, the scholars found all the cards essential for design thinking. The average set of essential cards selected by a scholar consists of 28 cards (median: 30 cards). (Largest set: 44 cards; smallest set: seven cards.) On average, each card was selected 12.2 times (median: 12 times). The card that was most frequently selected as being essential was picked 19 times (= ‘let the design problem and solution co-evolve’). The scholars selected one card only three times (= ‘build on another’s ideas’).
As a group, the scholars found all cards except one unique for design thinking. On average, each card was selected 3.8 times as being unique for design thinking (median: three times). The scholars selected the most popular unique card 11 times (= ‘imagine the non-existent’). The card that they deselected was: ‘continue to be inspired by adding information to the innovation project’.
Twelve scholars added one or more cards to the card set. These additions fall into four categories:
- rephrasing of an existing card (n = 3)
- addition of details to an existing card (n = 7)
- general statement on design expertise (n = 1)
- addition not related to the set with the potential to make the set more complete (n = 4). (Appendix D shows the descriptions of all added cards.)
A qualitative analysis of the statements that the scholars made regarding the completeness of the card set confirms this. The scholars complimented the completeness of the card set. For example, one scholar was initially a bit worried, as he thought that design thinking was too complex to cover in an interview. As background information, he brought a huge pile of books about design thinking to the interview. Although he mentioned the many theories described in the books a few times, he never had to fall back on them because the cards allowed him to speak about his subjects of interest in a rich and detailed manner. He also reflected on the cards by saying the following:
…Pff, a lot of these, a lot of what’s on these cards is very good, there’s nothing actually bad on any of these cards … So they’re all relevant in some aspects.
Completeness According to the Affected Users ( = the Innovators)
As a group, the 33 innovators found all the cards essential for design thinking. The average set of essential cards consists of 34.4 cards (median: 35 cards). (Largest set: 48 cards; smallest set: 14 cards.) On average, each card was selected 23.7 times (median: 25 times). No card was deselected. The most frequently selected cards were picked 31 times (‘make sense of user needs’, ‘deal with uncertainty’, and ‘make ideas tangible with the use of prototypes’). The least popular cards were selected 14 times (‘find inspiration in the complexity of the innovation project’, ‘use a seemingly unstructured process of experimentation’ and ‘create committed team members by challenging them on their personal goals’). As a group, the innovators selected all cards at least once as being unique for design thinking. On average, each card was selected 6.5 times as being unique for design thinking (median: six times). The innovators selected the most popular unique card 13 times ( = ‘make sense of user needs’, ‘trust on intuition during decision-making’, ‘create meaningful solutions’). The least popular cards were only selected once by the innovators ( = ‘find inspiration in the complexity of the innovation project’, ‘continue to be inspired by adding information to the innovation project’, and ‘divide the tasks according to the team’s competences’).
Twenty innovators did not feel the need to include new cards in the set and complimented the set as a rich conversation tool thanks to its diverse range of statements combined with illustrations. Thirteen innovators would rephrase some of the cards or add new cards to the set. Similar to the scholars, the innovators also added four types of cards to the set:
- rephrasing of an existing card (n = 2)
- addition of details to an existing card (n = 5)
- general statement on design expertise (n = 6)
- addition not related to the set with the potential to make the set more complete (n = 6). (Appendix D shows the descriptions of all added cards.)
Analysis of the Accuracy of the Card Set
Accuracy According to the Domain Experts ( = the Scholars)
We discussed the accuracy of the card set with the scholars. Overall, they were very impressed by its accuracy. On only a few occasions, they expressed their confusion about the formulation of the statements on the cards. This often originated from their professional knowledge of the extensive body of research that exists behind the statements. As one scholar explained:
… All these things that you’ve chosen are quite complex terms really, that have got a number of different dimensions to them.
We asked him explicitly to express these different dimensions, leading to very rich discussions and insights. In addition, another scholar stated after the interview that the cards really triggered a rich discourse on design thinking.
Secondly, some scholars disagreed with the statements on certain cards. Most often, this was because they disagreed with the research on which the card was based, or because they felt that the terminology used by other scholars was nonsense. One scholar for example disagreed with the statement ‘iterate effectively’, because he stated that it implies that one could also iterate ineffectively. He explained why he thought this was impossible by using examples of designers iterating. This led to a rich discussion that was in the end in line with the stories that the other scholars told about this card. This also shows that the card set led to accurate discourse on design thinking.
Accuracy According to the Affected Users ( = the Innovators)
Most innovators agreed on the wording of the cards. They disagreed only on a few occasions. For example, one innovator, reflecting on the card mix creativity with analytical reasoning, said that the statement was poor. He proceeded to explain how will, emotion, empathy and inspiration are all part of creativity and should be included in the mix. Although he initially perceived the statement on the card as poor, it allowed for a rich explanation of how this statement is applied in his daily practice. This example is illustrative of the high-perceived accuracy of the cards according to the innovators.
Conclusion Study 2
In Study 2, we evaluated the card set based on the card selection procedures of the scholars and the innovators. The quantitative analysis of the card selection procedures showed that the selection of cards that are essential and/or unique was quite random. In other words, no subset of cards in the set represents the core of what design thinking is. This shows that the richness of the card set was necessary to capture the extensiveness of the concept of design thinking; the richness was needed for an agreed domain of discourse on design thinking.
Regarding the completeness of the card set, it can also be concluded that both scholars and innovators found the card set to be quite complete. The scholars and innovators made four types of additions to the card set. The first group consisted of cards that reformulate existing cards in order to improve the accuracy of the set. The added cards in the second group included a more specific description of a design activity described on one of the original cards. The third group consisted of added cards with statements that cannot be linked one-to-one to design activities. The fourth group of cards consisted of additions to the original set. In total, ten cards belong to this category (see Appendix D).
The scholars and the innovators also commented on the accuracy of the card set. Although some scholars and innovators mentioned the complexity of the statements on the cards, they understood what these statements meant. We concluded this since the stories that they told us based on the statements were related to the meaning that we gave to the card. None of the cards were criticised and/or reformulated by multiple scholars and/or innovators, which suggests that the scholars and the innovators deem the cards accurate. Future research could test whether simplifying some of the statements could improve the accuracy of the card set.
Based on the analysis above, about the completeness and accuracy of the card set as the main quality indicators for an agreed domain of discourse, it can be concluded that the current cards functioned quite well as an agreed domain of discourse for design thinking.
Study 3: The Practical Application of Design Thinking in Innovation
The card set on design thinking proved to function as an agreed domain of discourse and, as such, could be used to understand its value in different innovation practices. This section reports on a third study that aimed to gain a better understanding of how innovators apply design thinking in their daily innovation practice. This study was executed with the same group of innovators that also participated in Study 2. This third study was executed immediately after Study 2 (with the same card deck). During the interview, the interviewer asked the innovator to reflect on the 10 unique cards that the respondent selected and explain how s/he applied the design activity in his/her daily innovation practices. This resulted in 33 interviews on the application of design thinking in the innovation practices of the innovators. The interviews with the innovators lasted between 35 and 120 min. The interviews were recorded and transcribed (±193,000 words).
A first analysis of the rich stories of the innovators on how they apply design thinking in their innovation practices led to two new insights. First, we discovered that the application of the design activities sometimes differed because the innovation practices were different. Second, the application of the design activities was not unique. We found that innovators who face similar challenges within their innovation practices use design thinking for similar purposes during innovation. Based on these insights, we concluded that in order to create an understanding of the application of design thinking in innovation, it was important to make the stories of the innovators themselves the unit of analysis.
The Construction of the Images of Design Thinking
In order to categorise the stories of the innovators sensibly, we adopted a procedure that is similar to family resemblance sorting (Rosch & Mervis, 1975). Categories that are created via family resemblance are fuzzy categories in which members are generally similar to each other, but there is no set of defining properties that would be shared by all members of the category (Medin, Wattenmaker, & Hampson, 1987, p. 243). In relation to this study, there were no examples of innovators all selecting the same design activities; the similarity between them is that they share a vision and innovation challenges. For example, innovator #6 (UX designer in the field of software and services), innovator #16 (senior specialist in NPD processes in the aerospace industry), and innovator #17 (head of design in an IT company) (for more details see Appendix C) all juggle different expressions of value throughout the (new) product development process. Design thinking facilitates dealing with the increasing complexity of their products and the business processes in which they are involved. Design thinking facilitates collaborations between organisational departments and in taking along all stakeholders in the problem context to ensure progress. Due to the similarity of the challenges, and the similar ways they apply design thinking, they belong to one category.
The result of the categorisation procedure is the origination of the images of design thinking. The result of the categorisation procedure is the origination of the images of design thinking. Morgan (1997) introduced the concept of images in his famous book—Images of Organization. He defined images as a way of thinking, or a way of seeing the world. He explains that a particular image of a situation leads to a deep understanding of the situation and provide therefore a way to deal with complexity and chaos (p. 4). That is, images are constructed views on the world that enable people to recognize situations and to cope with the complexity of this situation in a positive way (p. 376).
In our study, the images are constructed based on combinations of the innovator’s aim for the project, his/her vision on innovation, the main challenge s/he is facing and the way he/she applies design thinking to overcome the challenge and for what specific activities design thinking is used.
To arrive at the images of design thinking, we applied a five-step method based on the work of Medin et al. (1987). Table 2 shows the five steps and the results of these steps in the study.
|Aim||Result in this study|
|Step 1||Identify prototypical exemplars & determine the core message.||Four categories of two to three key personas. Preliminary definition of the innovation challenge.|
|Step 2||Capture the content of each interview.||Detection of three to four innovation activities (to overcome the challenge) per interview.|
|Step 3||Categorise all interviews using the key personas as centres of categories.||Four clusters of interviews assembled with the use of family resemblance.|
|Step 4||Name categories.||Naming of the images.|
|Step 5||Capture the content of each category in detail.||Clusters of similar activities supported by design thinking found in the interviews corresponding with that image. Final description of an image.|
To ensure that our interpretation and categorisation of the interviews justifies the content, we asked the innovators to evaluate our interpretations (that we sent to them). Thirty innovators responded that they agreed with the analysis. They found our interpretations recognisable and they made sense to them. We did not receive content-related feedback from three respondents.
Results Study 3: Four Images of Design Thinking
This section describes the four images of design thinking. These images represented the practical application of design thinking in industry and were constructed based on the rich stories of that innovators told while reflecting on their individual selection of the 10 most unique design activities. The images are: (1) value-driven innovation (n = 9 innovators), (2) experience-driven innovation (n = 7 innovators), (3) purpose-driven innovation (n = 11 innovators), and (4) vision-driven innovation (n = 6 innovators).
Table 3 shows the four images of design thinking. The first column describes the aim of the innovators within the image. The second column shows the innovators’ vision on innovation. The third column shows the challenge these innovators are facing. The fourth column describes the main purpose of design thinking in the image and the fifth column zooms in on specific innovation activities that are supported by design thinking (For a more extensive explanation of the images, see: Valkenburg, Sluijs, & Kleinsmann, 2016; Kleinsmann, Valkenburg & Sluijs, 2012).
|The innovators’ aim||Innovators’ vision
|Design thinking facilitates:||Design thinking is particularly used to:|
|Innovators in value-driven innovation aim to develop strategies for the long-term survival of the company.||Innovators in this image see a world in which customers in the supply chain become more demanding and business processes become more complex.||Reframing the business model leading to a sustainable value proposition is the main challenge because the traditional operations are no longer sufficient to be competitive in the fast-changing market and expressing competitive advantage in the market is key.||A holistic view on the market, business, stakeholders and added value. Additionally, design thinking facilitates collaboration across organisational departments and taking along all stakeholders in the problem context to ensure progress.||
|Innovators in experience-driven innovation aim to create rich experiences through involving people in the experience as well as in the creation of it.||Innovators in this image see a world in which the user’s experience is an inextricable part of service innovation. The value of an experience unfolds in the use.||Innovators see discovering the value for the user and making it explicit to create business as their main challenge.||Co-creation with all stakeholders as a driving force in discovering the value for the end-user.||
|Innovators in purpose-driven innovation aim for well-designed products (& services) that deliver maximum value for users.||Innovators in this image see a world in which products become increasingly complex, for instance through the integration of ‘smartness’ or addition of service platforms.||Innovators see the task of integrating all knowledge from different disciplines and domains as their main challenge.||Creating a shared understanding in the team about what the added value for the user is exactly. User value in turn drives the integration and application of knowledge by all members of the design team.||
|Innovators in vision-driven innovation aim for a positive change in the world.||Innovators in this image see a world in which the far future is uncertain and unknown. Within this future, innovators have a strong belief in how to translate grand (societal) challenges into innovation opportunities.||The challenge is to engage in developments that are future proof. Among all the rapid changes in the world, they develop sensitivity towards what is a meaningful and sustainable direction to take for the business.||Achieving a strong vision for the future, which is enriched by provocative endeavours with different types of stakeholders who support the vision.||
Not all innovators in an image executed all the activities mentioned in the fifth column of Table 3. All innovators executed two to three activities each and all innovation activities were executed by at least two innovators. Appendix E shows the distribution of the innovators along the activities.
Study 4: External Validation of the Images of Design Thinking
A study into understanding how innovators apply design thinking in their daily innovation practice resulted in four images of design thinking. To validate the images, we need to investigate if other innovators recognise themselves in the images and if they apply similar activities. Therefore, we set up a fourth study. We performed Study 4 as part of a seminar on collaborative innovation networks. During the seminar we did a workshop (in 2 sessions) in which we presented and evaluated the images.
Participants of the Workshop
Twenty people took part in the workshop divided into two sessions (Session 1: n = 9; Session 2: n = 11). From their own introduction during the workshop and the analysis of their public profiles, we concluded that 18 people had profiles similar to those of the innovators in the study. Two people had different profiles: one scientist and one person who supports inventors. We excluded both persons from further analysis.
Results Study 4
All 18 participants explicitly identified themselves with one of the four images (see Table 4). They explained that they recognised the challenges and the innovation activities. The respondents assigned themselves to an image in just a few minutes, which also shows that it was not difficult for the respondents to position themselves within one image.
|Image||Number of participants|
The respondents within the vision-driven group of Session 1, for example, all have very future-oriented tasks and have the task of changing systems with the use of design thinking. This fits the vision-driven image. The respondents recognised the innovation activities from their practice and they started to share experiences on how they create paths to the future, how they take people along those paths and how to have fruitful dialogues with these people along the way. Furthermore, one participant, who chose experience-driven innovation, told the facilitator informally after the workshop that the descriptions of the image he belongs to fit him so well that it felt like ‘coming home’. He also stated that the image provided him with many insights that will support him in explaining himself to his clients and others in the near future. Knowing the content of the remaining three images also supported him in understanding differences between him and other types of innovators.
Moreover, the facilitator noticed during Session 1 that the participants within one image used similar language, while the language of participants belonging to different images varied. She asked if the respondents had noticed this. One of the participants (purpose-driven innovation) answered this question as follows:
Yes, very much. There [pointing towards the experience-driven innovation group] they referred to people many times, there [pointing towards the vision-driven innovation group] they talk about dreaming. And I have lists.
This respondent recognised that the experience-driven innovator is focused on people, the vision-driven innovator is focused on visions and dreams that are further into the future and the purpose-driven innovator is focused on clear and tangible goals, which can be expressed lists such as program of requirements and to-do lists. This is also an indicator that the images are representative and distinctive.
The participants of the workshops also reflected in groups on the innovation activities that we formulated within the images. These reflections led to vivid discussions. For example, one participant within experience-driven innovation in Session 1 stated:
We added practical examples [to the innovation activities]. Let’s start with explaining, “be curious about people.
He continued by explaining how he did this. This is representative of what other participants did. They enriched the activities with examples from their own practice, without adding new innovation activities. This indicates that people who belong to an image actually execute the innovation activities within an image.
Moreover, the person that supported inventors (whom we excluded from further analysis) asked the purpose-driven innovators questions about the innovation activities. He could not believe that somebody would actually engage in such activities. The participants that identified with the image ‘defended’ the innovation activities with a lively explanation of how they applied them and how the activities supported them in their daily innovation practice.
Discussion and Conclusions
The paper shows that the context in which designers operate is changing. Some people within the design community find this problematic, since they think that an extension of the context in which design thinking is applied will lead to a fad rather than a real opportunity for exploration (Stewart, 2011).
Furthermore, people in industry apply design thinking in a rather uncritical manner, resulting in weak innovation projects (Woudhuysen, 2011). The ambiguity of the concept makes it hard to capture the value of design thinking in innovation practices. This was reinforced by the significant disconnect between the available theoretical knowledge on design thinking, sourced from the literature on design expertise, and its practical implementation. These studies aimed to connect theory and practice in two distinct ways. Firstly, by creating a common language through the creation of a card set that served as a shared domain of discourse. Secondly, the images of design thinking support people in understanding their innovation practice and thus identifying how they apply design thinking in a valuable manner.
To overcome the gap between theoretical knowledge on design thinking and its practical application, we developed a card deck by drawing on the literature on design expertise. We successfully tested if both scholars (theory) and innovators (practice) could accept this card deck as an agreed domain of discourse. Consequently, the card deck functions as a bridge between theoretical knowledge on design thinking and its application. Outside the direct scope of this paper, we tested if the card deck could function as a tool to train people in what design activities they can use while executing early-stage innovation projects within a particular image. In various settings, we applied the card deck to: (1) explain what design thinking is, and (2) train the participants to improve specific parts of their early-stage innovation practices. On these occasions, the card set provided a playful means of reflecting (collaboratively) on the value of design thinking in the early stage of innovation.
The four images of design thinking presented in Study 3 frame how innovators apply design thinking to support their innovation practices. The images support the designer in reading the situation in which s/he will apply design thinking (Morgan, 1997, p. 4 & 376).
Study 3 explains that the application of design thinking is dependent on the innovator’s aim for the project, his or her vision on innovation, and the main challenge s/he is facing. In other words, design activities have a different value within the different images. Take for example prototyping as an important design activity. In value-driven innovation, innovators use prototyping mainly for the synthesis of the diverse knowledge bases of the different stakeholders. Prototypes are used to create a shared understanding about the technical complexity of the innovation project and to elicit tacit assumptions about the stakeholders. In experience-driven innovation, there is an emphasis on collaborative prototyping with users, mainly during the discovery phase in which it is determined what will create value for the end user. In purpose-driven innovation, innovators use prototypes to turn ideas into concepts. These concepts facilitate the creation of a shared understanding in the multidisciplinary team. Prototyping is also a vital element in vision-driven innovation. Innovators use prototypes to provoke a dialogue with the stakeholders (including future users) and to test the vision created. This finding is in line with the work of Lawson (2006) and Schön (1983, p. 131) that showed the importance of the context while designing. It is important to mention that Study 3 also showed that design thinking is not solely responsible for success in innovation. The innovation activities clearly display that the innovators used design thinking to deal with important aspects of their entire innovation process. However, the innovators’ tasks are more extensive than the innovation activities described in Table 3. Therefore, we want to emphasise that, to be successful in innovation, other innovation activities should also be executed.
Study 3 provides the reflections of 33 innovators on the value of design thinking in their innovation practices. Some of the innovators participating in this study told us (after the interview) that they feel like sole advocates of design thinking within the organisation for which they work. They explained that they find it hard to awaken interest and kindle enthusiasm among their colleagues about their designerly way of working, because it deviates from what their colleagues are used to. This is partly because the innovators also find it difficult to explain what things they do and why. The respondents of Study 4 recognised this problem and suggested that they will use the contents of Table 3 to show their colleagues that there are other best practices available. This indicates that the framework presented in Table 3 could support innovators with explaining their way of working to others and that using the images of design thinking will lead to greater commitment and belief in the value of applying design thinking in innovation. This confirms our own experiences, in which we acted as design consultants and used the images and the card deck to explain the value of design thinking in innovation practices to other people. The images supported rich discussions about the innovation context and responsibilities of the participants. These discussions provided insights on the value of design thinking in their innovation practices; because the participants could see clearly the advantages of applying design thinking. The card deck functioned within these consultancy settings as a hands-on tool to support decision making on which design activities to exploit.
Concluding, we can say that the combination of the descriptions of the images together with the card deck can serve as a common language and a tool that allows capturing the value of design thinking in early-stage innovation.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the Innovation-Oriented Research Programme ‘Integral Product Creation and Realization (IOP IPCR)’ of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. We would also like to thank the participants of our research for their time and openness during the interviews. Moreover, we would like to thank the editor, the reviewers and our peers for their constructive feedback on earlier versions of this paper.
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|#||Design activity card described on card||Design activity as described in literature|
|1||Dare to take risks to be innovative||
|2||Alternate between a diverging and converging approach||
|3||Build on another’s ideas||
|4, 5||Balance desirability, viability and feasibility/ Transfer the innovation brief into consumer value and market opportunity||
|6||Integrate the knowledge bases of different disciplines||
|7||Find inspiration in the complexity of the innovation project||
|8||Use the innovation project as a learning experience||
|9||Iterate between design problem and its solution||
|10||Let the design problem and solution co-evolve||
|11||Engage and empathize with users||
|12||Make sense of user needs||
|13||Convert (user) needs into added value||
|14||Co-create with users||
|15||Deal with changing rules, criteria and/or incomplete information||
|16||Deal with uncertainty||
|17||Use sparring with people as sources of inspiration||
|18||Continue to be inspired by adding information to the innovation project||
|19||Look at the innovation project from different points of view||
|20||Create knowledge through interaction and inquiry||
|21||Use different types of sketches to create a shared understanding||
|22||Prototype non-physical experiences||
|23||Visualize together to create a shared
|24||Visualize to communicate ideas and
|25||Clarify thought processes with the use of visualizations||
|26||Have a research attitude to really understand||
|28||Switch between different levels of abstraction||
|29||Imagine the non-existent||
|30||Have a reflective conversation with the imaginary||
|31||Divide the tasks according to the team’s competences||
|32||Trust on intuition during decision making||
|33||Create meaningful solutions||
|34||Create unexpected solutions with a wow factor||
|35||Use a seemingly unstructured process of experimentation||
|36||Challenge the status quo of the innovation project||
|37||Create committed team members by challenging each on their personal goals||
|38||Recognize situations and apply experience on it to bring the innovation project further||
|39||Apply previously used problem solving strategies to bring the innovation project further||
|40||Create a rich design conversation with different stakeholders||
|41||Negotiate with different stakeholders||
|42||Create belief by imagining the future||
|43||Evaluate alternative proposals against the initial vision||
|44||Bridge different languages||
|45||Scope the innovation project by prioritizing criteria||
|46||Challenge boundaries by investigating the ill-defined issues of the innovation project||
|47||Mix creativity with analytical reasoning||
|48||Make ideas tangible with the use of prototypes||
|#||Role / department||Country||Organization||Area of expertise|
|1||Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy (MPP)||DK||Copenhagen Business School||Management|
|2||Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building||AU||University of Technology Sydney||Product- & service design|
|3||Faculty of Engineering and IT||AU||University of Sydney||Design Engineering|
|4||Key Centre of Design Computing and Cognition||AU||University of Sydney||Design Engineering|
|5||Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning||IL||Technion - Israel Institute of Technology||Architecture|
|6||Design Studies||GB||University of the Arts London||Arts &Design|
|7||Engineering department||GB||Cambridge University||Design Engineering|
|8||Faculty of Art and Design||GB||Montfort University||Design Management|
|9||Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering||NL||Delft University of Technology||Product- & service design|
|10||Department of Management Engineering||DK||Technical University of Denmark||Product Design|
|11||Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering||NL||Delft University of Technology||Product Design|
|12||Research department Product Design & Engineering||NL||University of Applied Sciences Utrecht||Product- & service design|
|13||Centre for Design Research||USA||Stanford University||Product Design|
|14||Professor of Engineering Design||FR||Grenoble INP Génie-Industriel||Design Engineering|
|15||Professor||GB||GB University of Strathclyde||Design Engineering|
|16||Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy||DK||Copenhagen Business School||Management|
|17||Vice-president for Research||LU||University of Luxembourg||Design Engineering|
|18||Design Management||DE||University of Applied Sciences, Muenster||Management|
|19||Design lab||US||University of California, San Diego||UX Design|
|20||Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering||NL||Delft University of Technology||Design management|
|21||Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering||NL, DE (?)||Delft University of Technology||Product Design|
|#||Role||Country||Focus||GCIS Sector||More specific|
|1||Head Of R&D||NL||R&D & NPD||Industrials||Building products|
|2||Head Of Product & Services Planning||NL||Product & service portfolio||Consumer discretionary||Automobile|
|3||Senior Director Design Innovation||NL||Business innovation & Strategic partners||Healthcare||Healthcare technology|
|4||Chief Design Officer||NL||Business innovation||Consumer discretionary||Household durables|
|5||Design Manager||NL||Brand values||Consumer discretionary||Household durables|
|6||User Experience Designer||GB||Experiences||Information Technology||Internet software and services|
|7||Senior Advisor||NL||Business processes||Industrials||Transportation infrastructure|
|8||Director Business Development||NL||NPD & strategic business development||Industrials||Aerospace|
|9||Chief Financial Officer||NL||Early-stage innovation||Consumer discretionary||Apparel|
|10||Expert Engineer & Project Manager Aem||NL||Technical expert||Industrials||Construction and engineering|
|11||Concept And Design Creation Manager||DK||Strategic business development||Consumer discretionary||Leisure facilities|
|12||Product Designer And Portfolio Promotions Manager||NL||Marketing & sales tools for new products||Industrials||Commercial services and supplies|
|13||Social Business Change Manager||NL||Experience||Financials||Banks|
|14||Senior Specialist Engineering Mechatronics||NL||Business processes||Industrials||Industrial machinery|
|15||Packaging Manager||NL||Products||Consumer staples||Personal products|
|16||Senior Specialist In Product Development||SE||Research & method improvements||Industrials||Aerospace|
|17||Head Of Design||GB||NPD & User Interfaces||Information Technology||Communications equipment|
|18||Vice President||NL||Strategic development||Consumer discretionary||Household durables|
|19||User Centered Designer||NL||User research||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|20||Service Designer||NL||Service innovation||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|21||Creative Facilitator||NL||Creativity expert||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|22||Strategic Consultant||NL||Product portfolios||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|23||Strategic Consultant||NL||Business innovation||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|24||Strategic Consultant||NL||Service innovation||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|25||Strategic Consultant||GB||Strategic design||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|26||Head Of User Experience||GB||design experiences; building empathy||Financials|
|27||Strategic Consultant||NL||Product portfolios||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|28||Strategic Consultant||NL||Visualisation expert||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|29||Strategic Consultant||NL||Service innovation||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|30||Strategic Consultant||NL||Brand design||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|31||Creative Researcher And Facilitator||NL||User research||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|32||Strategic Consultant||NL||Business development||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|33||Customer Experience Director||GB/DE||Service innovation||Industrials||Research & consulting services|
|Added cards of the scholars||Added cards of the innovators|
|1. Rephrasing of an existing card (accuracy)||
|2. Addition of details to an existing card (accuracy)||
|3. General statement on design expertise (completeness)||
|4. Addition not related to the set with the potential to make the set more complete (completeness)||
- Zoom in and out of the problem in context to create a full understanding of the problem—and its solution space (innovators V1, V3, V4, V6, V7, V9).
- Get in contact with the end user to overcome organisational fixation and to create a project goal (innovators V1, V2, V6, V7, V8, V9).
- Visualise and conceptualise to create a shared understanding among stakeholders (innovators V1, V3, V5, V6, V7, V8).
- Make decisions in spite of ambiguous and incomplete information to progress the project (innovators V2, V3, V4, V5, V7, V8).
- Engage all stakeholders to get their input during co-creation (innovators E2, E3, E4, E7, E7).
- Be sincerely curious about people to make all stakeholders aware of implicit user values (innovators E1, E2, E3, E4, E5, E7).
- Create a safe atmosphere of doing and play to let the stakeholders embody the innovation problem and explore the unknown (innovators E1, E2, E4, E5, E6).
- Cultivate end- user curiosity to create a valuable product (innovators P6, P7, P9, P10).
- Align user and business value to make the concept accomplishable (innovators P1, P2, P3, P8, P10).
- Synthesise thoughts of experts to create a coherent design (innovators P1, P2, P3, P5, P8, P9, P11).
- Visualise and prototype in early stages to facilitate discussions (innovators P4, P5, P6, P7, P10).
- Rely on dreaming and intuition to break away from the status quo (innovators P2, P4, P5, P6, P8, P9, P10).
- Make use of intuition, personal engagement and ‘what if’ questions, to create provocative statements and/or concepts that show future possibilities (innovators V2, V3, V4, V5, V6).
- Confront people with and immerse them in a realistic future vision of what the world could be in order to create a dialogue about future possibilities (innovators V1, V2, V4, V5, V6).
- Facilitate and orchestrate the input of as many stakeholders as possible during the process of vision-making to support the future vision (innovators V1, V2, V3, V4, V5).