Design Thinking in Business

Design Thinking in Business

By Viraj Kalyani, Founder & Chairman, Kalyani Studio



There is a very stereotypical view out there that design is about aesthetics and packaging. You somehow come up with a solution, make your product or service and just want the designers to make it look good so that you can sell it to your customers. That is actually not what design is, it is a very small part of designing but the main aspect of a design is its problem-solving philosophy. It also involves participating at the early stage of product development, and not being there right when everything has been done in a very analytical way. All of us at Kalyani Studio truly believe in and champion the Design in India movement because we feel Make in India will not work unless you create jobs and to create jobs you need to Design in India. Because Make in India will involve a significant amount of automation and then you have to create the new high technology jobs and that’s what we are doing at Kalyani Studio with Design Thinking.

Many of you who maybe in the design field already, know the phrase, ‘Form follows Function’. We have turned that upside down and we feel that “Functions follows Form”. What I mean by that is for a long time, when you look at the last century, industry has been looking at functional aspects of products and then putting some exterior aesthetics to it for the design to manifest. When you start looking at design itself defining function, that’s when you really start creating some magic. That’s what we do at Kalyani Studio. We combine five disciplines – Design Thinking, Material Science, Mechanical Engineering, Manufacturing Engineering and Mathematics. With all these we come up with high performance outcomes around High Strength Engineering. That’s where function follows form comes into place. It’s about your scientific expertise that you put in through design to get your performance outcomes for your products. Another example in which we use Design Thinking is, we are redefining what it means to be a designer. Traditionally the engineering and design industry has designers where you are expected to just run a particular software and you are given very limited tasks to perform repeatedly, it is routine work and you are just responsible for a very small portion of the entire problem that you are solving. We are looking at a more holistic approach, bringing back the mojo in mechanical engineering by creating new kinds of jobs, one of them being a Solutions Designer. So a lot of our team members are highly creative people, they are engineers as well as coming from different backgrounds but they look at solving a problem end to end from the customer’s inputs to the end solution, not just looking at one portion of the design cycle.

You might wonder, why any of this is even important – it’s because technology is changing at a very rapid rate and that’s a well-known phenomenon right now but not many people know what to do about it. Most observers talk about the rapid pace of technology and highlight the problem. What we have come to understand through our experience of working with clients is that in order to ride these technology waves, and this will happen in each of your businesses, no matter which field you are in, you have to use design to turbocharge your innovation process. So, innovation should get more scientific or process oriented. It cannot be a one hit wonder, it cannot be something that you strike upon by luck and then you feel you are sorted. After one innovation, a few years or months down the line there will be just another start-up that will disrupt and change the technology. So, you always have to be problem solving and focussing on solutions rather than just the product or the service.

So, what this means as a leader or as a part of managing an enterprise- it means you look at the transition that’s taking place amongst very successful businesses. Business leaders should become Design Thinking leaders. What this means is you impart design thinking as a philosophy across all your functions and all your different functions should be innovative. There are technologies that change each of these areas like sales, production, administration as well as your core innovative process. If you have a design thinking mindset you will always be looking for innovations in all parts of your business and expecting that from everybody in the company not just from one team that is seating somewhere in a different location.

How do you enable change with Design Thinking?

Firstly, you’ve got to trust the process more than the outcome. It is very important that you have that discipline. Accepting more ambiguity, design means there’s a lot more creativity coming in, lot more new solutions and lot more unknowns. If you have unknowns, it doesn’t mean you stop there. You should say these are the assumptions and move forward. This involves embracing risk because with ambiguity there is uncertainty but navigating that risk is part of the entrepreneurial journey. And finally resetting expectations. If you understand that innovation is a continuous process there are going to be certain failures and certain successes, then you will continue doing it and not pull the plug on the entire process.

Finally, I would like to show some examples of how you can set up a design centric culture. This is from an article from the founder of Ideo, Tim Brown. There are five main aspects to it:

  • Focus on the user’s experience and emotions

  • Create models to examine complex problems

  • Use prototypes to explore potential solutions

  • Tolerate failure

  • Exhibit thoughtful restraint

I will talk about these in detail in future blogs. Design Thinking is a combination of Human Values, Business Thinking and Technology. Make use of all three and harness them in balance, that’s when you get high-impact design innovation.

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