The new rules about regulation

Can creativity have rules? What happens when design meets government regulation which decides what you can and can't do?


32st March 2018

by | Sep 13, 2018 | Design thinking

Photo by Andrew Avdeev on Unsplash
We live in a time of change. It’s not just change, it’s unprecedented change. No one has seen change on this scale or at this pace before. Previous rules are out of the window. All bets are off.
Some companies, you will have noticed, thrive on change. They seem to be agile, capable and unafraid to innovate. They produce novelty and excitement as easily as some companies seem to produce the same old reliable results.
Other companies haven’t done so well. Change seems to be just out of reach all the time, even when it’s in an area they already operate in and they seem to have everything they need to innovate.
So what’s the problem?

Why do companies with all the gifts fail, while companies who are new to the industry and seem to have little more than ambition and a great turn of phrase innovate effortlessly? Why are whole markets littered with tragic stories of well loved brands who couldn’t keep up?

The answer is that those who succeed don’t have different problems. They have budget problems, people problems, resource problems, process problems, just like everyone else. They just have a different approach to thinking about their problems.

It’s called design thinking.

Design thinking was developed in the 1990s at Stanford University to build on creativity techniques which emerged with the early computer revolution in the 1970s. Its now the de facto industry standard and in use by Apple, Google, Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and most other major players in tech.

Design thinking provides a distinctive, objective approach to innovation and creativity. It takes out a lot of the finger-in-the-air subjective stuff in the design process and provides a framework where the design process is structured and made understandable.

It’s a process, not a culture.

You don’t need special people, special talents or special investment to use design thinking. Anyone can learn it.

It’s a method, not magic.

The results it produces can be startling but they’re not random or unpredictable, it’s a reliable method you can use over and over.

Design thinking is a human-centered thinking style for approaching problems and creating solutions.

It’s not the only thinking style. There are others, some of which you might be using already. For example:

Resource centred for reliably directing finite resources to a known outcome in a way that can be replicated

Process centred for looking at connected problems holistically and studying the interaction between the components

Human centred for approaching problems with unknown outcomes using flexible resources


Using the wrong thinking style for your problems can cause more problems. It’s very common to see organisations trying to use management thinking to solve management problems. Because management is a way of replicating known outcomes, they end up recreating all their existing problems, just in a different medium or way. So their service has all the same issues, just delivered a little bit quicker.

So how does design thinking work?

Design thinking is divided into 5 steps. Each step is iterative: the activity is carried out, then learned from, then carried out again. The step is finished when it’s finished.

Step 1: empathise

Work to observe the behaviours and actions associated with the product or service. Don’t try to understand them just yet and be very careful to avoid possible solutions no matter how obvious. Research in every way possible: analytics, interviews, workshops, statistics. Make as big a pile as you can. Always make sure you look at the behaviour before and after the service you’re designing. The behaviour before will often power the use of your service and the behaviour after will explain what it actually delivered.

Step 2: define

Now you can start to look for patterns and trends in the data. What are the sticking points? Where do people find problems? Did they stop or drop out? Why? Did the system do what it was supposed to do? How it deliver the value intended? When you’re ready, define the problems very clearly and agree them with your stakeholders. These are the problems you will solve.

Step 3: ideate

Now you can start to create solutions to the problems you defined. Think as wide as you can to start with. What could the solution possibly be? Web site? App? Paper form? Phone service? TV channel? Drop-in coffee shop? Mobile help stall? All ideas are allowed, nothing is off limits.

Step 4: prototype

Check your ideas against your defined problems and original research. Select a few which answer the problems best. Now very quickly build a working model of each solution. Keep the model as simple as you can – post-its and paper clips will do fine at first. Don’t get too detailed, just include the main functionality.

Step 5: test

Now it’s time to test your prototypes. You can do guerilla testing with your own people at first if you like, but the sooner you test with real end users, the sooner you’ll be able to find out which ones work the best. After testing, compare your results: which prototypes worked best and why? Now reduce the number of prototypes, incorporate the best ideas from the failures into the survivors and prototype again at slightly higher fidelity. Repeat this loop until you have a good working solution.

by | Sep 13, 2018 | Design thinking

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