Design Thinking: The latest Innovation Process.
So what Is Design Thinking and who thought of it?

Design thinking is a creative process which focuses on solutions instead of problems. It combines contextualizing problems, generating insights and executing solutions. While scientific thinking concentrates first on all the possible problems, design thinking focuses on problems and solutions simultaneously. In the corporate world, ideas are compared with customer expectations and technological feasibility to produce the most optimal product whether its a new medical device or a new customer experience.


Herbert A. Simon, in his book, The Sciences of the Artificial (1969), was the first to consider design as a way of thinking. He proposed that creative thinking had to be based on an open and evolving solution, without specific final goals.

In the 1980s, Nigel Cross recognized that in this type of thinking the most important element was the designer's instinct. What seems like intuition is in fact analytical thinking and abductive leaps. Picture a designer standing on one side of a big hole and trying to reach the other side. According to Cross, he is not simply jumping and hoping to land on the other side. Instead, he builds a bridge with his creative reasoning which he then uses to walk safely across.

Richard Buchanan influenced the academic study of design thinking greatly in 1992, when he connected it with innovation. He listed four primary disciplines where design thinking is used:

  1.  Symbolic and visual communication (what we call today graphic design)
  2.  The design of material objects (product design)
  3.  Activities and organized services (service design)
  4.  The design of complex systems or environments for living, working, playing and learning (policy/urban planning design)

Note that not all the disciplines mentioned by Buchanan have a classic "design" element to them.

At the same time that design thinking was becoming a topic of discussion, a movement called participatory design was gaining momentum. In this approach, all the stakeholders such as partners, employees and manufacturers participated in the design problem. The disadvantage of this approach was that it ignored the feelings of the end-user. Although usability was taken into account, the emotions of the customer were ignored, especially if they conflicted with the goals of the designers. User-generated design was an improved method which veered away from efficiency and focused on the user's experience and needs.

Design thinking has since broadened into human-centered design, which takes into account everyone involved in the product and its effect on holistic community development. Design thinking provides organizations with a deeper understanding of their consumers as individuals, increases the volume, breadth, quality and relevancy of ideas and accelerates the speed at which ideas develop.

Now you probably ask: What’s in it for me?  This will be part of upcoming blog posts.


Patrick Sirois

Note: This article is part of a series of articles about Design Thinking and its benefits for medical device companies and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM).


Triode is a consulting firm specialized in product strategy. We help our clients to reduce delay and risks in product development with a better understanding and identification of customers needs (Market analysis and Voice of the customer) and makes a difference with a product plan.