What do companies like Infosys, Godrej, Future Group and Marico have in common? Think… It’s design thinking. The yet very underrated term. A concept that can change the way a company connects to its customers, give them what they want, and plan a complete user journey around it to linger in the consumer minds for a long time.
In the quest to remain relevant yet sticking to their roots, companies such as Infosys and Godrej have come up with design thinking solutions that amalgamate new practices with the old.
Projects like ‘Aikido’ (Ai, Ki and Do combine into Aikido, the East Asian martial art form) hold different facets of services provided by Infosys. The ‘Do’ from ‘Aikido’ refers to design thinking and design-led initiatives. With this service line, Infosys helps clients find and define their own unique paths using design thinking. This is not about ‘best practices’, or for fitting known solutions to well-understood problems. Rather, it is about identifying and prioritising the right problems, and solving them in a rapid, iterative, innovative and differentiated manner.
Similarly, ‘Antevasin’, a Godrej initiative, is derived from a Sanskrit word that translates into “one who lives at the border.” In ancient times, it referred to someone who had left the worldly life to live at the edge of the forest where spiritual masters used to dwell—on the border between the material and spiritual worlds. Decoding this in the modern world, the company, in fact, intends to sustain consumer’s changing needs and aspirations, while delivering the age-old values of Godrej’s trust and integrity.
Vishal Sikka, CEO of Infosys, shares his opinion on the concept. “In my experience, design thinking is a great approach to help us find problems, to help us see what is not there, to help us see something that is not visible or not directly in front of us. We are all trained to solve problems specified to us, but we are rarely trained to identify what is not there, and design thinking is a great mechanism, a great technique to systematically uncover some highly-relevant problems that are feasible to solve.”
Indian companies appear to be following good practices of global firms such as Apple, Virgin, Toyota and others, which innovate because of their culture of design thinking. These companies are constantly integrating the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.
So, do you need design thinking for your organisation?
Of course. Every company needs to inculcate design thinking as part of business culture. Design, as a term, can be applied at every step in an organisation. From idea generation to market sustainability solutions, constant change is a necessary evil. That’s how the world gets going. Equipping oneself with approaches to design thinking will promote creativity, innovation and freshness in ideas across every field.
Today, design thinking is enabling organisations of all sizes to ideate better, develop new approaches to innovation, weave insights and concepts together, and is helping them meet their customers’ needs effectively.
While there is an urgent need for professionals in India trained in design thinking, it is sad that there are no structured courses in this discipline from recognised institutes. We need an industry-relevant course that teaches professionals to understand, learn, apply and overcome design thinking shortcomings.
The ‘Innovation of Products and Services: MIT’s Approach to Design Thinking’ course enables participants a step-by-step introduction into the processes of design thinking—understanding design thinking process, identifying and assessing customer opportunities, generating and evaluating new product and service concepts, designing services and customer experiences, designing for environmental sustainability, and evaluating product development economics.
Prof Steve Eppinger from MIT—he is one of the world’s foremost proponents of design thinking—lays out three important pillars. These are (1) customer desirability, (2) technically feasibility, and (3) business viability. A good idea must meet all three criteria to become a design thinking success. In fact, students of Prof Eppinger have applied these exact principles to create the hugely successful Airbnb—the company that has transformed travel industry.
There’s a shift in large organisations, one that is about applying the principles of design to the way people work.
A design-centric culture is becoming the norm where organisations empower employees to observe behaviour and draw conclusions about what people want and need. The designation of ‘chief design officer’ is slowly gaining hold in organisations such as Godrej and Future Group.
Change is the only constant, and design thinking can certainly ensure you stay ahead of the curve, every time.
The author is co-founder & director, Emeritus Institute of Management, Singapore