Design thinking—the idea of using design principles in a wide array of disciplines—has been a leading force shaping the way businesses operate and design processes. Inspired by the maker movement, design-doing is the idea of using those design principles in the creation of tangible systems, products or outcomes. In this Q&A Future State Chief Solutions Office Leila Lance shares how Future State uses design-doing to help clients move into new realms of innovation and success.
How does design-doing differ from design thinking?
Leila Lance: Design thinking has been an amazing breakthrough. How we innovate and come up with the ideas for design is important, because so many things we’re designing for at Future State are rapidly changing and thus hard to envision.
But at the end of the day, we need to make something tangible out of those design ideas, and there’s an art to doing that. That’s what we call design-doing. When the concepts clients are trying to envision are completely out of the box, we can’t just borrow from past methodologies or read a white paper, because they’re new.
What you’re doing by design doing is asking, “What am I trying to implement?” and paying attention to the construct and the context. It’s more complex—it’s not linear.
When we creatively design, how it will be implemented is as much work as designing what to implement in the first place. We can borrow from the past, but it has to be implemented in a new way.
Are there other influences that shaped the design-doing process?
LL: Design doing is born out of the maker movement, which was featured a few years ago in Time magazine. It involves addressing problems from different angles.
Susan Fox, who was chief technology officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about the maker movement in 2016 at MedX and how it could speed products and processes in the medical world. To design innovatively in that world, they don’t bring just medical people. They bring engineers, they bring designers and artists, people who can be creative and artistic in this design to meet the objective by tapping into multiple skills and senses.
The maker movement intentionally did what Future State accidentally did. We have employees with MBAs, and we have people who are artists and dancers. All of these people approach a problem in lots of different ways. We have a culture that holds up a lot of disciplines under the shared belief that we’re making the world different and better, and when we bring different ideas to the table—ours and our clients’—we can make something beautiful and functional that changes the way thing are done.
It’s not just about creating concepts. So much of Silicon Valley is concepts. How you do them—which involves design—helps determine how sustainable they are and how they are actually adopted.
Design is really important—design is how you’ll use something, and how you’ll use it is just as important as the concept. There’s beauty in design, and there’s design in functionality.
How does Future State approach design-doing?
LL: Design is a critical element of how we think about the work we do. Usually all we have is ingredients, no formula. We really have to listen to what needs to be accomplished by when, and then we borrow from all kinds of disciplines.
Visualizing and designing around complexity are key values in our work. We are capable of this because we have an experienced workforce. We’ve been through all the trends and fads in terms of how things get implemented. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. We piece all of those things together.
We have to be pragmatic in how we approach implementation and immensely creative with how we do it. It’s important to involve different people and groups. And normally there are limited resources, so we have to be creative from that standpoint, too.
The things we’re talking about right now, we’ve never seen before. They disrupt entire marketplaces in two years. We’ve seen it all and we love the puzzle of it, the design of it.
How does Future State adapt in a constantly changing environment?
LL: Look at the gig economy or blockchain—these are technologies that have never existed before. And these new technologies are pulling together stakeholders who have never existed in the same world. How do you take all these disparate stakeholder bodies and get them engaged and aligned, and adopt something so it yields a return on the investment? We can’t go through the standard linear phases of implementation; the approach has to be more nimble.
With so many disruptive things happening, you have to keep people aligned. The things we’re talking about right now, we’ve never seen before. They disrupt entire marketplaces in two years. We’ve seen it all and we love the puzzle of it, the design of it. And we’ve been around the block enough that we really understand how to listen and be pragmatic about it.
How has this changed Future State’s relationship with clients?
LL: We have to be partners in it. And as partners we have to be vulnerable enough to say what we don’t know. We have to be willing to risk being wrong, and know that that’s not necessarily about being the right client or the right consultant.
The imagination of it all—it takes a partnership to play in that space and try different things. You don’t know what you don’t know until you do it.
If you thought about Uber a few years ago, would you think the idea of getting in stranger’s cars would be a good idea? Would you imagine it overtaking all transportation channels? Could we have predicted all the good things, what it would mean to the entire industry of public transportation?
The clients who are really on the front end of design thinking would have exercised that muscle. Once that happens, they have to understand they’re not done with the concept—it’s going to go through implementation and adoption.
It takes a special relationship with a client to embrace the unknown and feel both safe and vulnerable.
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