Design Thinking is all about thinking like a designer and works excellent when co-creating solutions for complex or wicked problems. Especially because Design Thinking revolves around key elements such as holistic thinking, asking about the reason behind the reason and having empathy with our end-users. It is great that design thinking is more and more accepted, taken up by more and more people and has an impact in various industries. On the other hand the question rises: what is coming next? We never really know what’s next until it is there. 

1. From Design Thinking to Systems Thinking

Thinking holistically is often underestimated. How holistic should we think when designing a single touchpoint in a process? Or a whole change program? We advice to zoom out as far as is needed to understand the cause and response relationships around the element that needs designing. When you want to truly transform and change the way you are doing things you need to know where to intervene. More and more companies will need to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Thus we believe that thinking in systems, rather than islands, might just be the next big thing.

Thinking in systems is talking about constant loops, feeding back, or when broken not feeding back. This constant motion is hard to map and even harder to change. When done successfully you will be guaranteed to have a great outcome. Donella Meadow, a great systems thinker, talks about finding leverage points in the system where we can make a lasting change. Having a lasting change means something changed at the mindset level of people. To find these spots we must first deeply understand our systems.

Another reason to dive into systems thinking is to find a balance between what we have and what we use. To make sure we leave a planet behind that is socially just and does not exceeds the limits of the resources requires looking at the whole system that we are part of. (Kate Raworth, the doughnut economics) When looking at the system of a company there is already a lot of information to be processed. E.g. interactions between people, departments, partners or the supply chain. Systems thinking takes it a step further and zooms out completely and asks ‘how are all the various elements of this system connected?’ 

We are ready to explore where this is going to take us. Having awareness helps with the challenges that we are presented with and will inform the conversations that we have with our clients. 

Let’s have a look at a second trend that is influencing design thinking.

2. From Human Centred to Planet Centred design

At the core of design thinking lies human centred design. This is not something we made up, many other people speak about the importance of human centred design. From the Harvard Business Review to IDEO and even many non directly human related companies focus on this phenomenon. In our team we have been speaking about why human centricity seems out of date. Is it ‘too individualistic’ or ‘outdated’, could it be just not enough?

Anab Jain from Superflux studios gave an answer that highly resonated. In an interview with Marc Fonteijn (in the Service Design Show) she states “what if we give up the idea of human centered design?” Then she explains: human centred design has a place because we fully understand the human and what he really want or need. For specific areas, for example for a human sighted impaird person this is necessary. But we have taken it too far. Placing the human at the center of everything, an anthropocentric idea, is problematic. It could be more than human centered design, how can we move above this anthropocentric view. In that way we are seen in between all the other species on earth.’ 

To be able to do this we must first acknowledge our connectedness and become aware of the interconnectedness between all the species on our planet. Also, it would ask from designers and innovators to constantly play thinking hats and wonder if I am doing this, how does that impact something on the other side of the planet? Or on another planet. In the sixties we decided that no country could own space, saying nothing about private owners. Today we see a race of billionaires trying to own the rights to inhabit parts of our universe. A small action that has high impact. Beyond the planet. 

Going back to planet centric design. If decisions on establishing prices of products to be as low as possible remain the norm, we will never move closer to an equal income around the world. Re-reading Kate Raworths’ book ‘the doughnut economy’ made me realize again how precious our planet is. Perhaps putting her with humans in the center is not a bad idea at all. For the record, the planet is more than rainforest and oceans. It includes all living organisms, gas floating above the surface and all resources underneath the surface. Are you ready to include the whole planet?

Now for a last change, and this is a small one with big impact.

3. From Design Thinking by a few to Design Doing by many

We look at designers and innovators for coming up with new ideas. Let me be clear, we all have ideas and we all can embody (parts of) a design thinker. Everyday you too create something new. As a designer myself I have had to take a rather theatrical oath, thanks to Jeroen Junte at the What Design Can Do conference, which said that whatever I was putting in the world was produced without harming anyone and wouldn’t harm resources or each other. This seems funny, but it is serious, we all come up with new ways of doing old or new things. We innovate. We do

If we all do things and not just think, it means we all have a responsibility to produce and develop things that are good for all. Design thinking implies that when thinking like a designer a part of your innovation issues will be relieved. Now I encourage you to do like a designer, do it. Try, create, draw, map, build and fail, test, improve, create and maybe scale. It is about time that you all, who followed one of the many design thinking courses, start acting it out. If we don’t change the way we do things we end up with the same problems we have created today (Albert Einstein). 

How? You might wonder. How do I do design thinking? Start small, start co-creating the next solution on your problem with a diverse group. This means inviting that colleague that ‘won’t approve anyway’, the input might be more than valuable. Or perhaps you have a repetitive job, what is always a hamper in your flow? How might you do that one thing different tomorrow? You see, there is some thinking involved, but when we don’t do, nothing will ever change.

If this is the next step for design thinking we will have a wonderful world of inventors, creators and creatives. I hope companies realize that if there is no space for change, nothing will happen. Or perhaps, all the doers will find each other and together tackle the world’s largest issues. 

On that note I would love to end with a video made a long while ago by Nike ‘makers unite’, and ask you to put on your work gear and make a change.

This blog is written by Nina Pennock, Service Designer at the Nextview Design Thinking Center.