Thursday, August 28, 2014

Design Thinking & India- A quick introduction -1

Design is not just what we see in coffee table books and on Apple billboards. It is both, a process and the outcome. It is an attitude to help us organize our minds for making holistic decisions. Steve Jobs lent this word some more weight in recent times, and it is just now becoming trendy to talk ‘design’. Beyond what we hear in media, here are some straight pointers to this twentieth century paradigm that is making rounds in the business world today.

Design Thinking in action for understanding India-Megatrends at IndiaNxt 2014, organized by Onio

‘Design’ in the verb form, is a process to mould the world around us thoughtfully. A process that makes the world around us more efficient, comfortable, aesthetically appealing and meaningful. It stands on four pillars: (a) empathic insights, (b) abductive reasoning, (c) creative visualization, and (d) recursive prototyping. Focusing on the user or consumer, builds and actively connects us to the end-user without interference from archetypes or data biases. Abductive reasoning ensures a systems approach and holistic view that includes all the critical influences and stakeholders in a process. Creative visualization, ensures participation and enriched brainstorming through pictures and visuals. Iterative prototyping ensures that new ideas are thoroughly tested out and validated in several stages, before the die-is-cast. ‘Early failure’, is what prototyping is supposed to validate and it saves the millions later.

Recently ‘design’ has become a trending word in the business world. Several Indian business icons have even adopted design as an important part of their organizational build like Vishal Sikka (CEO-Infosys), Atul Punj (Punj Lloyd), Ashni Biyani (Future Group), Ganpathy S. (SAP Labs), Dr. Reddy's lab, Godrej group, etc. On another note, half the MBA seats in the Maharashtra state in India, (which houses an astonishing number of MBA colleges) are still awaiting candidates. But new design colleges are opening every other day and they are getting filled up in no time. Design, once a cult, is catching up with the mainstream quickly.

In the everyday life of an organization, if one wants to talk to the stakeholders without ‘design’ in picture work still happens and decisions do take place. But we have seen so many examples how ‘committees’ spoil the broth. Unless is no over-arching central figure to control and moderate the discussion in the corporate realm, it falls apart in no time. Analysis-paralysis is a reality. People can go on arguing till cows come home, to no avail. Even if the decision is taken, it tends to be patchy and impulsive, only to be mended later with huge costs. As a human being, we are programmed to disown any decision taken by somebody else. We dislike a mandate that we are not part of in synthesizing. Design or Design Thinking infuses a lot of situational protos, mock-ups or visuals which become the rallying point for discussion for a problem or issue at hand. That helps bring out concerns even from the people who are less articulate (but can later pose a problem through their objections). This not only enriches the ‘team insights’ but also creates a single voice for the decision.

Another important insight into an organization’s everyday life is a search for ‘insight’. Every problem today needs an ‘insight’. Organizations today, have very few people left who can have a ‘Eureka’ moment every now and then with an effective solution. Today, the problems, from HR issues to consumer complaints, to innovation in products and rejuvenation of brands, all need the piercing ‘insight’ of a mind that can see through them. Data collation is not an insight. Data analysis is part of an insight but not an insight itself. An ‘insight’ is bigger than the sum of the total findings. Something that requires lateral connect between seemingly unconnected sets and this connection is not predictable at first. Some brains are wired to read between the lines as easily as reading the lines themselves. But how does an average cross-functional team make it happen? This is where ‘Design Thinking’ comes into picture. Methods of connecting the dots of micro-data and micro insights, and stitching them through a ‘metaphor’ and not a ‘function’, or through ‘story’ and not ‘organizational categories’, creates synthesis for a new meaning and hence new value.

Another important contribution of Design Thinking is in broadening the palette of ideas while brainstorming. Many times, brainstorming session reach a dead-end quickly with all the stakeholders only dishing out the predictable ideas. By studying the practices in other domains of human knowledge, deriving insights from observations and user-studies, and deeply analyzing the current context, design-thinking practitioners can provide richer inputs on a brainstorming table. Not only that, their ideas and claims would often be backed by some observation (fact or piece of knowledge that has been recorded somewhere). This visualization generates a spring-board effect, where one person builds on another’s idea and takes it to a different level altogether. All ideas generated here may not be pragmatic. But they would surely be diverse and vibrant enough to spark a new thought and a new beginning.

Recursive Protoyping is another key facet of design thinking. A prototype in Design Thinking parlance is not a physical piece of contraption alone. It could as well be a sketch on paper, an act of role-play, a series of words generated to model something, or a non-functioning installation. Prototyping must be done at every stage of innovation & change, to cut the losses that may be incurred at later stages due to not conforming to the context. Life has gone ahead of Excel sheets to enhanced digital tools, quickly modeling the products, services, task-flows and experiences in visual form. Rapid prototyping or 3D printing is increasingly becoming a tool of choice for giving ideas a quick shape.

Design Thinking is a process to do things right in the times when data and information is available a plenty, creativity & consensus seem far apart and society has gone beyond the basic needs. The underlying thread is broader thinking with collaborative creativity. The manifestation is beauty, inclusivity, comfort, efficiency & cost-optimization, and sighting of new opportunities.

Onio is organizing a two day workshop on DESIGN THINKING FOR INDIA | Mumbai | Sept 19-20, 2014. Registration, brochure and more details are here or write to