Four Design Thinking 2018 Conference Takeaways You Should Be Using

By Matt Murphy, Senior Engagement Manager

A few weeks ago, we had the honor of attending and emceeing the Design Thinking 2018 conference in Austin, Texas. From traditional engineering-focused companies looking for culture change, to companies like IBM who have been successfully scaling design thinking as a practice, the companies and stories told in Austin were a kaleidoscope of organizations at various levels of design thinking maturity. Spending two+ days surrounded by hundreds of passionate leaders and innovators, listening to numerous illuminating talks, and participating in a variety of design thinking exercises, validated how important a culture of design thinking is to the successful creation of businesses, products, and services.

For those in the early stages of understanding and applying design thinking, the foundation of this methodology is understanding the end-user and the impact that design thinking will have on them. Design Thinking is an iterative process suited for solving complex and ill-defined problems by placing the user and their pain points and needs at the center of product and service development.

At Smashing, we have found that design and design thinking have helped our clients innovate faster, build better and more successful products and services, and transform their cultures. Below are the four dominant themes at the Design Thinking 2018 conference that you should know:


1. Design thinking is a must in the value chain

If we were to sketch the design innovation value chain for products, business and service design, where upstream lives strategic value and downstream lives execution value, design thinking would live within a continuum in the value chain applied in equal measure. When you launch in-market, that is the true test and where you must continuously apply design thinking in iterative loops to advance the evolution of your product and service.


2. Design thinking is a journey, make it inclusive

To unlock the benefits of design thinking, a shift in culture is often necessary; meaning that our fearless design thinking advocates will face headwinds internally in acceptance of a new way of thinking, working, delivery of services, and relationship with their users. Culture shifts occur when there is a groundswell in that direction. Bringing a product or service to market requires inclusion in design thinking. As advocates of the process, designers must include their colleagues from the C-Suite, engineering, operations, marketing, etc., to facilitate the necessary execution framework to go from idea to market.


3. Design thinking is not a workshop

Pulling everyone into a room for one meeting, putting some post-its on the wall and calling it a workshop is not design thinking. Rather, championing design thinking requires finding the right vehicles of interaction and practice that enables all stakeholders to view their engagement in a creative and iterative process through the lens of the user. This can take the form of a workshop, and many times does, but simply having a workshop for the sake of it, or going through the motions, does not empower your stakeholders with a true foundation of design thinking. We must fight the desire from other stakeholders to turn design thinking into a box to be checked.


4. Design thinking your design thinking practice  

When it comes to implementing a culture of design thinking within your organization, success can be as simple as practicing what you preach. Empathize and define your internal customers, their pain points, challenges, and objectives; then ideate, prototype, and test implementation tactics that support those objectives and eliminate those pain points and concerns. Gather feedback from your stakeholders throughout the journey to test new prototypes. Design thinking within an organization should be constantly evolving as stakeholders change or grow into design thinking advocates themselves.


Whether these takeaways illuminated possible solutions to roadblocks or serve as a reminder, each can be used in your efforts today. Embracing the journey of design is where groundbreaking solutions are found, and the 2018 Design Thinking conference set the stage for individuals and organizations alike to further champion the importance and effectiveness of a design thinking approach.

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