A Difference of Design

by August 7, 2005

As the fervor of harnessing “design thinking” for strategic advantage and innovation continues, more firms are looking to reinvent themselves by becoming design-focused. In order to better define what this type of change actually entails, I’ve tried to succinctly outline how design processes differ from traditional business processes.

In addition to my thoughts, points from Tim Brown’s Strategy by Design, Roger L. Martin’s Creativity Runs Deep, and Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class are embedded within the following comparison.

 “Business” Approach“Design” Approach
Problem Solving Approach

Definitive. Relies on equations for “proof”.
Iterative. Relies on a “build to think” process dependent on trial and error.
Validation throughWhat customers say: often a combination of qualitative (focus groups) and quantitative (surveys) research.What customers do: often direct observation and usability testing.
Informed byMarket analysis and aggregate consumer behavior.Direct consumer observation and abductive reasoning (“what might be”).
CompletedCompletion of strategy phase marks the start of product development phase.Never: continually evolving with customers.
Focused onAn understanding of the results of customer activities.An understanding of customer activities.
Tools used to communicate strategic visionSpreadsheets and PowerPoint decks.Prototypes, films, and scenarios.
Described throughWords (often open to interpretation).Pictorial representations and direct experiences with prototypes.
Team membersVertical expertise and individual responsibilities.“T-shaped” expertise: a principal vertical skill and a horizontal set of secondary skills. Collaborative (team) responsibilities.
Work patternsPermanent jobs, on-going tasks, and fixed hours.Temporary projects with associated tasks and flexible hours.
Reward structureCorporate recognition based on the bottom line.Peer recognition based on the quality of solutions.