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Lost in translation? Try design thinking! Part 1

Business design
28 September 2016
Soft Systems Methodology
Lost in translation? Try design thinking! Part 2
12 October 2016
Business design
28 September 2016
Soft Systems Methodology
Lost in translation? Try design thinking! Part 2
12 October 2016

Designit design thinking

Maritza Guaderrama is the managing director of Designit Spain & Latam: a global strategic design firm. Designit applies design thinking techniques to help its clients develop better product-service experiences and guide them through their business transformation efforts.

Maritza has a PhD in Communication Sciences from the Complutense University de Madrid. She is a board member of “Innovation and Design” Foundation in Madrid (Spain) and co-founder of h2i institute, the human-centred innovation institute, where she also teaches Design Research. Maritza has participated at TEDXUSB 2012 (Venezuela) and currently combines management of four Designit offices (Madrid, Barcelona, Medellín and Lima) with her academic work. She teaches Anthropology and Design at IED Madrid and gives support to the research group “Emergent cultural practices in the new Madrid” at the Anthropological department of UNED.

From a socio-anthropological approach to innovation, Maritza has worked on projects for large international corporations by coaching and applying ethnographic and co-creation methodologies. Those methodologies allow teams and organisations to deal with uncertainty in a collaborative and creative way, placing humans at the centre of transformation and change processes.

In this interview Maritza shares her design thinking expertise and provides insights on applying design thinking in the business analysis domain. She also provides valuable tips for business analysts on how to make design thinking work and become more effective in their work.

Q: Maritza, thank you for making time for this interview. Could you share with us how your adventure with design thinking started?

Maritza: Let me say that I am neither designer nor engineer, I am an anthropologist. When I finished my PhD in Social Communication Science in Spain, the internet was becoming a wide social phenomenon. And I wanted to understand the social use of internet and develop services based on the comprehension of this social phenomenon.

I have started working on the digital world from the social science perspective. The first thing I discovered when working with engineers and designers is that we experienced a kind of ‘lost in translation’ situation. I soon discovered that I barely understood what they were talking about. This was the moment when I realised that we all should develop a common language, a common place in which many disciplines could talk together about innovation and its social impact. Without giving it a name, we started working in a design thinking way using many tools that allow us to work in interdisciplinary teams. We understood that if we wanted to work effectively to create new services, new approaches for business, we have to create this common ground where we combine the best practices and frameworks of many disciplines. This is what design thinking is for me.

Q: What are the key principles of design thinking?

Maritza: Let me start at the beginning. In my opinion, schools neither prepare students for working in multidisciplinary teams nor prepare them for teamwork. Schools focus on the individual work of a student. One of the key principles of design thinking is alignment with how organisations work and showing the importance of teamwork. Design thinking should not be applied by one individual. Design thinking will show its great potential only when it is applied in teams. Design thinking is about social multidisciplinary co-creation. Be honest: if we all speak the same language and understand each other, we do not need design thinking.

The second key principle of design thinking is how it deals with complex scenarios and uncertainty in a solution-oriented manner. We live in a world in which the right solution is not known, we do not know what it should be. We discover a problem step by step and the same holds for discovering a solution. Design thinking is a good framework that guides us to a solution step by step. This is its real strength.

From the anthropologist’s point of view, we focus on understanding the problem, but if we cannot communicate properly with our team, we cannot reframe problems and find the right solutions. The framework that design thinking brings to our team is a framework to communicate: within the team, but also with the rest of a (complex) organisation. Doing so you ensure that everyone in the organisation is aligned and understands what you are doing.

Q: You work for a design company, Designit; many associate the design discipline with the appearance of things, but this is only partially true. How has this discipline evolved over time?

Maritza: Design as a discipline has evolved over the last 25 years. Traditionally design was oriented to change the surface of an object or define the appearance of a thing. In the last two decades, design (as a discipline) has changed and moved from a “beautification” approach to a more strategic perspective: to solve problems in a complex world using creativity. Design as a discipline provides a set of very useful tools for strategic thinking and strategic thinking with a solution-oriented approach.

team process

Solving complex problems requires creativity

Design is about creativity. The world is more complex now. We often face complex problems. There is no recipe or formula for how to solve these problems. You have to be creative to solve them. Therefore design as a discipline provides a set of tools for exploring and communicating about possible solutions or possible products/services. Design thinking puts creativity and finding a solution together.

Q: Does it mean that there is room for design thinking in a boardroom?

Maritza: Definitely, if we want to be successful with strategic design thinking we have to get C-level (corporate level) involved. When you work with the CEO, general manager or board members you see that they suffer from this miscommunication problem I mentioned before: their specialist teams speak a different language and the managers are not always adaptive and agile enough. Sometimes C-level managers only have a partial comprehension of problems they face resulting in defining partial strategies. Today if you are not able to engage at the C-level of an organisation you will fail for sure, especially as consultancy company.

Q: How can you convince C-level managers to give design thinking a chance?

Maritza: I noticed that managers who are facing hard times in their companies are more willing to experiment. These managers see their products lost to the competition; they see that competitors are faster, more responsive than they are. They lose the market niche or market share or competitiveness. It is a simple truth that if you are in trouble, you will be more open-minded; you know you need to work in another way. Sometimes managers are convinced to develop and include the design thinking framework when you explain to them that their current way of working will not allow them to differentiate the company or to create added value in the future.

Many managers hire traditional consultancy companies when introducing a new technology, but nothing happens. They then realise that things have to be done in a different way. People who are in this stage are prone to adopt strategic design thinking. They want to change their way of working to become more agile and align the company with the new fast-changing world.

Q: You practise design thinking. How do you organise it?

Maritza: There is a kind of semantic group of words we use in the context of design thinking. They are: co-creation and strategic design. At Designit we have embraced the design thinking framework. Firstly I want to stress that we are a fully interdisciplinary company. At Designit we have 32 different backgrounds: engineers of many kinds, designers of many kinds, social scientists, architects, MBA (business perspective), brand specialists and advertising specialists. It is our company DNA to create a common ground for all these different disciplines to work together and understand each other to produce solutions that satisfy our clients. We bridge the gaps between different backgrounds. That’s why we call ourselves a design company.

Q: Do you think people can be trained in design thinking?

Maritza: For sure. Over seven years ago we realised in Spain that the kind of people we needed to face complex problems, who know how to work in an environment full of uncertainties, are not trained at the universities. We established our own school of human-centred innovation, the h2i Institute. At the f2i Institute we have started to systematise the learnings and develop a programme which could allow us to build bridges between different disciplines. So right now we have a school that provides the students with tools and techniques for strategic design, storytelling, communication, agile prototyping and design basics. This programme trains people in this 360-degree view that represents design thinking.

Innovation can be thought

Design thinking can and shall be taught

Q: Design thinking and business analysis have common ground too. Business analysis facilitates organisational change. What would you advise business analysts on how to benefit from design thinking?

Maritza’s answer to this question will be published in the second part of  the interview. Check our blog next week.

Lost in translation? Try design thinking! Part 1
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