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Going from Design-led Thinking to Design-led Doing

Posted 6 years ago

There are post-it notes on the walls. Scrunches of paper strewn over the floor. Everyone’s animated and literally tossing ideas around (hence the scrunched paper balls). Later that week the paper balls are in the bin and the only remnants of the day anyone can recall are some great ideas, a refreshed team and perhaps a few improvements to relationships.

It’s the condensed, stand-alone ‘Design Thinking’ ideation session where the only strategic and operational consideration is inviting representatives from different departments to contribute. It’s some organisations’ version of a hackathon.

Valuable for ideas and solutions… but not enough to generate sustained innovative action and measurable success. These sessions generally produce inspiring ideas and solutions which uniquely and effectively solve problems because they’re attended by subject matter experts representing different departments, but that’s not enough to arrive at ‘destination innovation success’.

Harnessing this knowledge and process is essential, but as an Irish academic team has discovered, “there is little guidance available on optimising design thinking’s adoption and diffusion within an organisation”.

Frank Devitt and his colleagues at Maynooth University1 believe that the agile, creative, evolving strategy of design thinking was never intended to be reduced to a stand-alone workshop. Their new research introduces a simple paradigm and process which connects ideation activities and workshops to the strategic and operational direction of an organisation.

Projects are often measured against some variation of three key attributes associated with design-led strategy: desirability, viability and feasibility. Many projects and ideas measure well against all three but still fail at implementation phase. Devitt et al have introduced strategic suitability as their fourth dimension of design innovation, which considers aspects of the business that are “critical to a project’s eventual adoption or abandonment”.

Used as a fourth pillar in the early design phase, ‘strategic suitability’ looks at the “effect of surrounding environments on a project’s development”, accepting that for innovation to thrive, existing aspects of the organisation and stakeholders must be considered early in the design process.

In a thorough strategic design strategy, this is more likely to be considered through stakeholder engagement and follow up sessions. However, the express workshop trend often absorbs this into the viability and feasibility categories, also diluting the financial, technical and resourcing depth required of those pillars.

Adding suitability early will increase the chance of success, but it is unlikely that any project, no matter how exceptional, will run exactly as planned to the end. Design thinking seeks to achieve a project goal, but also aims for a desired environment which can nurture the current project and future innovations.

The Devitt team’s ARRIVE process has reframing as the secret sauce of design innovation. They explain how a change in perspective occurs in their clients when project participants understand the importance of correctly applying insights gained through Audits and Research. It is their Reframing and Validation phases where doing leads to data collection and the cycle repeats until new behaviours and attitudes are established.

Devitt et al Design-led Thinking ARRIVE diagram

Design thinking isn’t just a set of generic activities; it provides the choreography for design doing and trains the team to coordinate their movements like dancers on a stage. The growth mindset, developed through small wins and persistence along strategically appropriate pathways such as ARRIVE, builds and nurtures the ideal environment for sustained innovation.

Impact Innovation has been talking to the ARRIVE model designers, because it complements how we have been operating for some time. The range of experience gathered by applying design thinking strategies with clients across multiple sectors is an essential selection criterion for your choice of strategic partner to lead your organisation in a design thinking approach to innovation. Call us on + 61 (07) 3041 1128 to learn more.

– Carla Paterson, Impact Innovation Guest Blogger


1. Devitt, Frank, Martin Ryan, Peter Robbins and Trevor Vaugh (2017). Unlocking Design Thinking’s Potential. Maynooth University, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland. This paper was presented at The ISPIM Innovation Summit – Building the Innovation Century, Melbourne, Australia on 10-13 December 2017.

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