The Design Thinking, Today


Not only did the company meet the challenge, they also invited a journalist along to follow the innovation process. The new grocery cart completely reimagined the supermarket experience, and the story made the rounds and was replayed numerous times across the country. But what did the leaders of this design firm hope to accomplish by broadcasting the experiment? They wanted to show exactly how innovation can be structured and methodological—all while keeping in mind the many challenges inherent in design.

 That company’s name is IDEO, and it remains one of the largest design firms in the world. Their list of innovations is impressive, from Apple’s computer mouse to a toothbrush designed for children and even a sophisticated medical device for cardiac bypass. What sets them apart is a methodology they came up with that’s all the rage today: Design Thinking.

 Although much was written about Design Thinking in the 1980s, the Nightline segment really sparked interest in the idea. In 2008, IDEO president Tim Brown published a lead story on the concept in the Harvard Business Review. According to Brown, Design Thinking works like this: observe your clients, use innovation to meet their needs, and put them at the heart of your iterative process.

 From 2008 to today, many organizations, thinkers, and academics have focused on Design Thinking to understand, study, and document the idea. Numerous companies have followed suit, adopting an approach that’s more consumer driven, and consultation firms have changed how they work based on Design Thinking. How far has the trend grown? American research giant Gartner listed Design Thinking as the number one soft skill they were looking for in new candidates—even above strategic thinking.

 The last decade has shown us that Design Thinking isn’t just about design. Since everything involves some kind of “design,” this methodology can apply to anything from rethinking the ergonomics of a building to creating a business model for an organization, determining a patient’s course of treatment, building a strategy for a political party, and more. The more complex the challenges, the better Design Thinking works to find a solution.  

 Although it may seem like the term itself is overused, Design Thinking is still in its infancy when it comes to its adoption curve. Firms like mine—Poudre Noire—are currently developing ways to incorporate Design Thinking into the process when it comes to organization transformation, strategy planning, and application development. And although many businesses understand how the method works, very few actually put it into action.

So what does Design Thinking look like in 2019? You may already be aware that it’s used to foster creativity, encourage teamwork, and limit human bias. And that it must be consistently analyzed, redesigned, and tested. But above and beyond that, what behavior should an organization adopt to make Design Thinking possible?   


Over the last two years, I’ve led over 150 workshops and supported numerous partners in their innovation loop. I’ve applied Design Thinking to business models, new products, software development, communication plans, and even defining a brand’s values.




  1. You don’t have the answers – The first thing you’ll notice—especially if you’re an executive member of your organization—is that you’re not in the best position to innovate and come up with new ideas. It’s not your fault; you’re simply too far removed from clients because of your role in the company. Even if you have a long list of data on your consumers, it’s been quite some time since you’ve been in their shoes.
  2. Look for ideas where you least expect them – This means the ideas that will guide your next optimization or innovation must come from elsewhere in your organization. When was the last time you sat down with your sales, logistics, or HR team? The people who are closer to what’s being done—as opposed to where strategy comes from—often have the best possible ideas that may just need a little polishing. When my clients ask who on their team should come to a workshop, I always ask if they have an intern to bring along. More often than not, these are the employees who come up with the most surprising ideas.
  3. The more diverse, the better – If you sat your finance team around a table at a workshop, what would they talk about? The financial challenges facing your organization, of course. Want to make the most of Design Thinking and get your team to come up with new ideas? The more diverse your group, the better the discussions will be. There’s always a truly magical moment in the first half-hour of my workshops. Slowly, every employee comes to realize that the challenges they face are not the same as those facing their colleagues. That moment changes the discussion and presents real opportunities for your organization.
  4. It starts with a theory – I begin every workshop with my own golden rule: “We are here to discuss your theories. We will validate them later.” In fact, the less prepared participants are, the better the workshop flows. I’ve seen it many times: Once someone brings up an Excel spreadsheet filled with numbers, discussions quickly end up focusing only on the company’s issues. In a Design Thinking workshop, it is of the utmost importance that people are allowed to discuss topics without constraints. The success of the workshop depends on it. Even if an idea seems far-fetched, it may spark ideas in someone else that can change everything.
  5. Consultant à Facilitator – Consultants have their role to play. That said, what Design Thinking requires is a facilitator—someone from outside your organization who knows how to ask the right questions as opposed to providing the right answers. A consultant can be hired further down the line, but for now it is your team who will take on that role. A Design Thinking expert is there to facilitate the conversation.


Reference articles:

Design Thinking – Tim Brown / HBR, 2008

Why Design Thinking Works – Jeanne Liedtka / HBR, 2018

Arnaud Montpetit
Vice-President, Strategy