Parts without a Whole: the Current State of Design Thinking Practice in Organisations is one of our favourite pieces of Design Thinking research because it eloquently explores the motivators and inhibitors of embedding design thinking and how that effects outcomes. Valuable reading for anyone interested in Design Thinking for organisations.

While a number of years old already, the lessons still remain as relevant today as they did then, and some of the findings do make for great base line data, for further study. We have summarised the key takeaways from this study, so you don’t have to read the whole thing…

Context of the study

This study was the first large-sample survey of design thinking adoption in practice, with organisations of various sizes from all over the world participating. The authors used a mixed-method research approach using two sources: questionnaire data and semi-structured personal expert interviews.

The explorative analysis of the survey data was gauged against insights from qualitative interviews with design thinking experts (those with strong experience in design thinking). The report explains the main differences and similarities in how organisations interpret design thinking and shows the areas that can lead to disappointment or failure when introducing design thinking.

12 Key Findings
  1. Information and Communication – most notably IT firms (21,77%) dominated the use of design thinking (DT), followed by; Other Service Activities, e.g. organisations offering DT as a service provision (19,05%); and Education (18,37%).
  2. 75% of respondents had been actively engaged with the concept of DT for 4 years or less.
  3. For-profit organisations use DT the most (65%) but it is applied in all industry sectors.
  4. Design thinking enters organisations via a multitude of learning channels. The main one being through educational institutions. People create their unique learning channel mix, which leads to different notions of what the concept (Design Thinking) is.
  5. There is varying understanding of what design thinking is. DT can be viewed as a toolbox, process, method(ology) or mindset.
  6. 3% of organisations localise their design thinking practice in a traditional way, for example in departments or support functions such as Marketing or R&D. Experts find that DT is more likely to fail if applied in this isolated manner without the whole organisation practicing, appreciating or even being familiar with the concept.
  7. Design thinking is applied to a wide array of problems. Surprisingly, customerfacing product or service innovation is often not the main area of its application. Many organisations intend for it to help with internal process improvements and matters of cultural change in teams and departments.
  8. 71% of respondents note that DT improved their working culture on a team level.
  9. 69% of respondents perceive the innovation process to be more efficient with DT.
  10. 10% stopped their officially supported design thinking activities. This is due to the view that design thinking is a one-of affair, lacking management support and exhibiting deficient diffusion and implementation.
  11. Respondents perceive design thinking as hard to measure. Most do not measure it at all. The ones who do, use vaguely coherent metrics. This may explain why only a minority of respondents have felt any financial benefits from design thinking so far, their origin is simply hard to trace back.
  12. It is common for management to focus on the final innovation outcome, instead of the journey of design thinking. Experts point out that the introduction of design thinking needs to be accompanied by additional changes in leadership and innovation capabilities.

This study demonstrates that most confusion around design thinking stems from the vast array of ways it can be applied to an organisation and the different experiences each application gives. The authors suggest that to successfully implement a design thinking approach, the leadership view must change. Design thinking should be intwined in overall business strategies, not isolated to specific departments. It is argued that by changing the perceptions of design thinking, hidden potentials can be unfolded and unwanted side-effects, such as the dwindling authority of managers and disconnection in teams, prevented.

You can read the full ‘Parts without a Whole – the Current State of Design Thinking Practice in Organizations’ report here.

Are you thinking of exploring a new market or looking to expand your product offering, but don’t know where to start? Read more about our Design Thinking approach, services and training here. If you are interested in having a chat further, please get in touch.