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Thoughts on Design Thinking: In conversation with the DesignThinkers Group NZ

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The Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship thrives in part due to the professionals who lend their time and expertise to our programmes, helping to connect our students to current industry practice. We are thankful to the DesignThinkers Group, who recently supported our Get Good Done weekend hackathon through facilitating a design thinking tutorial run within the programme.

Business partners Martin Sawbridge and Darryl McClay discuss the discipline of Design Thinking with Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programme Manager Sinead Watson.

What is your definition of Design Thinking?
Martin: Design Thinking is a human centered process used for solving complex problems and creating innovative new services, experiences and products.

What specifically do you mean by Human Centered?
Martin: Being Human Centered means firstly that we take the time to fully understand the needs of the people who we are designing for. And that we keep them at the very centre of the process from Empathy right through Ideation. This also includes the all-important Prototyping stage where we get the product or service in the hands of the end users to Test and Measure and gather their feedback. It also eludes to Design Thinking being a collaborative process that values the input of all involved.

Where has Design Thinking come from? The term seems to be everywhere now.
Darryl: The process itself has been around in different forms since the mid 60’s and was primarily used by the traditional design community for the likes of product design, fashion, graphic design etc. The general business world started adopting the process over the last two decades with companies like Apple highlighting the vital role of innovation and leading the way by creating a range of desirable products that enhanced people’s lives and delivered on previously unmet needs.

What do you see as the main benefits of Design Thinking?
Darryl: There really are so many benefits to be gained by using Design Thinking and applying the tools. I think these are best described by the core Design Thinking steps themselves.
Empathy – Gaining a deeper and unbiased understanding of what the people you are designing for actually want and need and why.
Define – Getting clarity on the key challenge’s to be solved using the insights from the Empathy stage provides the clarity and focus needed for Ideation.
Ideation – Generating better ideas, designed for the end users by trusting the entire process and embracing collaboration and diverse thinking. And it’s rapid.
Prototyping – Getting a crude version of the product or service in your customers hands saves time and money and provides crucial feedback for the next round of Ideation.
Applications for using parts of or the entire Design Thinking process in our opinion are limitless. In our perfect world it would be taught throughout the schooling system and embraced and adopted early on so we can build future generations of innovators and human centered problem solvers.

The major characteristics of Design Thinking have been described as being ‘inefficient’ and ‘uncomfortable’. I guess it’s like going to the gym – no pain, no gain. How hard is it to get people to buy into and to not give up once things start to get uncomfortable?
Martin: We know that creating change within any organisation is challenging, even when people know it’s for the better. The approach that we take with companies for getting everyone on board with the journey is to start at the top and make sure that there is alignment within the organisation and that the change process will be supported by the senior leaders. Then we suggest starting out on an isolated project rather than going for wholesale change across the entire business. This form of business Prototyping accepts that there will be inevitable bumps and allows the team to refine the process before introducing it to other parts of the business. We support our clients throughout this phase and provide tools and expertise to build their capabilities to a point where they no longer need us.

What books would you recommend about Design Thinking?
We recommend starting with these titles:
Change By Design – Tim Brown
Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation – Idris Mootee
This is Service Design Thinking – Marc Stickdorn
Creative Confidence – David Kelly
Sprint – Jake Knapp
Ted Talks also have some good speakers on Design Thinking but don’t take everyone as gospel.

What got you first interested in Design Thinking as a movement?
Martin: We’ve both been part of the creative industry for over 20 years and have been using certain aspects of Design Thinking for our entire careers for advertising and marketing. While we’re really proud of the work that we did and the brands that we worked with, there was often a point of frustration as we felt we could have a bigger impact had we been involved at an earlier stage of the process and had deeper understanding of the end user and their needs. As Design Thinkers we now get involved right from the start and are able to produce more meaningful and impactful results using the process. We also love working with groups of people, teaching them how to apply Design Thinking to their challenges and working collectively with them to innovate and create solutions that make a real difference.  We’re constantly blown away with the ability of groups of people with different skills and backgrounds to provide game changing ideas and love the energy that comes from being part of that and seeing people grow and gain creative confidence. That’s really rewarding for us and in line with our values of helping people do great things that make a real difference for other people and our planet.

You’ve now been involved with two hackathons for the University of Auckland. How well did the students pick up on the Design Thinking process and what advice do you have for them?
Darryl: On the whole the students picked up the process really well. This was helped by having well organised events with a group of industry experts to help, but also the openness and enthusiasm of the students themselves. Advice wise we certainly recommend that they take the time to become familiar with the Design Thinking process and grab any opportunity they can to practice it at other hackathons and on any of their own projects and assignments.  We’ve had so much interest from corporates who want to build Design Thinking capabilities within their organisations, so already having these skills would be a huge advantage for students and would be really attractive to future employers.

The other advice with regards to adopting a Design Thinking mindset is to resist the temptation to try and solve things too early in the process as this limits options and won’t result in the best ideas. Investing time in Empathy, Defining the Challenge and embracing the collective input of a diverse group of people will result in much more robust and ground breaking ideas and solutions.

Martin Sawbridge – Co Partner, DesignThinkers Group New Zealand
With over 20 years’ experience, Martin has successfully worked as a designer and creative director in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, helping global brands effectively connect with their customers through insightful and creative campaigns.

Martin combines his expertise in customer experience and skills as a designer, strategic thinker and ideation facilitator, to help project teams adopt the Human Centered Design Thinking process, to solve complex problems and create preferred futures.

Martin sits on the board of the Designers Institute of New Zealand, where he holds the chair of Service Design.

Darryl McClay – Co Partner, DesignThinkers Group New Zealand
Darryl McClay has enjoyed a highly successful career as a business leader and pioneer of the Shopper Marketing industry in New Zealand, with his own agency Raydar.

As a founding partner of DesignThinkers Group New Zealand, Darryl now applies his strategic expertise and leadership experience to help organisations adopt a more human-centric approach to solving problems and creating new opportunities, using Design Thinking. He also works as an executive coach to business owners, senior leaders and management teams across a variety of industries.

Martin Sawbridge and Darryl McClay
Martin Sawbridge and Darryl McClay

social media

The Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship thrives in part due to the professionals who lend their time and expertise to our programmes, helping to connect our students to current industry practice. We are thankful to the DesignThinkers Group, who recently supported our Get Good Done weekend hackathon through facilitating a design thinking tutorial run within the programme.

Business partners Martin Sawbridge and Darryl McClay discuss the discipline of Design Thinking with Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programme Manager Sinead Watson.

What is your definition of Design Thinking?
Martin: Design Thinking is a human centered process used for solving complex problems and creating innovative new services, experiences and products.

What specifically do you mean by Human Centered?
Martin: Being Human Centered means firstly that we take the time to fully understand the needs of the people who we are designing for. And that we keep them at the very centre of the process from Empathy right through Ideation. This also includes the all-important Prototyping stage where we get the product or service in the hands of the end users to Test and Measure and gather their feedback. It also eludes to Design Thinking being a collaborative process that values the input of all involved.

Where has Design Thinking come from? The term seems to be everywhere now.
Darryl: The process itself has been around in different forms since the mid 60’s and was primarily used by the traditional design community for the likes of product design, fashion, graphic design etc. The general business world started adopting the process over the last two decades with companies like Apple highlighting the vital role of innovation and leading the way by creating a range of desirable products that enhanced people’s lives and delivered on previously unmet needs.

What do you see as the main benefits of Design Thinking?
Darryl: There really are so many benefits to be gained by using Design Thinking and applying the tools. I think these are best described by the core Design Thinking steps themselves.
Empathy – Gaining a deeper and unbiased understanding of what the people you are designing for actually want and need and why.
Define – Getting clarity on the key challenge’s to be solved using the insights from the Empathy stage provides the clarity and focus needed for Ideation.
Ideation – Generating better ideas, designed for the end users by trusting the entire process and embracing collaboration and diverse thinking. And it’s rapid.
Prototyping – Getting a crude version of the product or service in your customers hands saves time and money and provides crucial feedback for the next round of Ideation.
Applications for using parts of or the entire Design Thinking process in our opinion are limitless. In our perfect world it would be taught throughout the schooling system and embraced and adopted early on so we can build future generations of innovators and human centered problem solvers.

The major characteristics of Design Thinking have been described as being ‘inefficient’ and ‘uncomfortable’. I guess it’s like going to the gym – no pain, no gain. How hard is it to get people to buy into and to not give up once things start to get uncomfortable?
Martin: We know that creating change within any organisation is challenging, even when people know it’s for the better. The approach that we take with companies for getting everyone on board with the journey is to start at the top and make sure that there is alignment within the organisation and that the change process will be supported by the senior leaders. Then we suggest starting out on an isolated project rather than going for wholesale change across the entire business. This form of business Prototyping accepts that there will be inevitable bumps and allows the team to refine the process before introducing it to other parts of the business. We support our clients throughout this phase and provide tools and expertise to build their capabilities to a point where they no longer need us.

What books would you recommend about Design Thinking?
We recommend starting with these titles:
Change By Design – Tim Brown
Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation – Idris Mootee
This is Service Design Thinking – Marc Stickdorn
Creative Confidence – David Kelly
Sprint – Jake Knapp
Ted Talks also have some good speakers on Design Thinking but don’t take everyone as gospel.

What got you first interested in Design Thinking as a movement?
Martin: We’ve both been part of the creative industry for over 20 years and have been using certain aspects of Design Thinking for our entire careers for advertising and marketing. While we’re really proud of the work that we did and the brands that we worked with, there was often a point of frustration as we felt we could have a bigger impact had we been involved at an earlier stage of the process and had deeper understanding of the end user and their needs. As Design Thinkers we now get involved right from the start and are able to produce more meaningful and impactful results using the process. We also love working with groups of people, teaching them how to apply Design Thinking to their challenges and working collectively with them to innovate and create solutions that make a real difference.  We’re constantly blown away with the ability of groups of people with different skills and backgrounds to provide game changing ideas and love the energy that comes from being part of that and seeing people grow and gain creative confidence. That’s really rewarding for us and in line with our values of helping people do great things that make a real difference for other people and our planet.

You’ve now been involved with two hackathons for the University of Auckland. How well did the students pick up on the Design Thinking process and what advice do you have for them?
Darryl: On the whole the students picked up the process really well. This was helped by having well organised events with a group of industry experts to help, but also the openness and enthusiasm of the students themselves. Advice wise we certainly recommend that they take the time to become familiar with the Design Thinking process and grab any opportunity they can to practice it at other hackathons and on any of their own projects and assignments.  We’ve had so much interest from corporates who want to build Design Thinking capabilities within their organisations, so already having these skills would be a huge advantage for students and would be really attractive to future employers.

The other advice with regards to adopting a Design Thinking mindset is to resist the temptation to try and solve things too early in the process as this limits options and won’t result in the best ideas. Investing time in Empathy, Defining the Challenge and embracing the collective input of a diverse group of people will result in much more robust and ground breaking ideas and solutions.

Martin Sawbridge – Co Partner, DesignThinkers Group New Zealand
With over 20 years’ experience, Martin has successfully worked as a designer and creative director in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, helping global brands effectively connect with their customers through insightful and creative campaigns.

Martin combines his expertise in customer experience and skills as a designer, strategic thinker and ideation facilitator, to help project teams adopt the Human Centered Design Thinking process, to solve complex problems and create preferred futures.

Martin sits on the board of the Designers Institute of New Zealand, where he holds the chair of Service Design.

Darryl McClay – Co Partner, DesignThinkers Group New Zealand
Darryl McClay has enjoyed a highly successful career as a business leader and pioneer of the Shopper Marketing industry in New Zealand, with his own agency Raydar.

As a founding partner of DesignThinkers Group New Zealand, Darryl now applies his strategic expertise and leadership experience to help organisations adopt a more human-centric approach to solving problems and creating new opportunities, using Design Thinking. He also works as an executive coach to business owners, senior leaders and management teams across a variety of industries.


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