Q: How important is it for our companies to adopt design thinking?

A: Design thinking or human-centered design (HCD) was developed originally to overcome deficiencies in software design by emphasizing the needs and abilities of those who were to use the products. It has evolved from the realm of software to applications in other areas of business. Along with this has come a set of tools that has brought listening to the users to the forefront, resulting in easier business applications. Testimonies of HCD success abound, along with notes of caution.

Creative designs are often more sensible than previous operational models. Yet, financial outcomes related to the design process have been difficult to measure and designs haven’t always been subjected to research and testing. In addition, the role of the expert in interpreting HCD inputs should be better recognized. Expert oversight as to the technological feasibility and operational viability of the design would add to its power.

HCD holds to the principle that the product should adapt to the user, rather than the user to the product. The challenge of HCD is the conversation between the designers and their constituents that addresses their relationship. The conversation should focus on the technological and behavioral constraints that govern adaptability. It must be accompanied by a narrative that wins the user’s imagination. In today’s world, we are witnessing how social media has captured that imagination and created applications beyond the scope of the designer’s vision. COVID-19 has now pushed our imaginations in new ways of working, learning and socializing. Viability comes from testing and communicating, not from an application of design processes.

HCD can be looked on as a starting point for positive organizational development. New designs can become constraints if they are not negotiated. They should be continually challenged and adaptive to changing business contexts. Adaptation is not optimization. It’s about coping with our evolving social context and finding out what helps us move forward. Regarding HCD, if it works, use it. But don’t stop the process at the completion of the design.


Jack Militello is a professor of management at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.