MDes Talks: Every Manager Needs to Be a Design Thinker

Why design thinking toolkits are essential for managers?

Every manager needs to have design perspective. You cannot build and grow a business without design thinking. But why do you need to “learn” it?

Let me tell you from my experience as a manager who wants to help clients improve their marketing strategies.

For many years, managers are used to apply analytical and linear problem-solving methods. But, these kinds of managerial tools are not enough in this competitive and innovative business environment.

A deeper understanding of customers’ behaviours and attitude is needed for designing a unique experience for them. The data from analytical customer information and segmentation are not sufficient for us to empathise with and to know them in their daily life.

Numbers alone do not tell us “why” people do what they do. Analytical view derived from numbers cannot show people’s motivations and feelings as well as their unconscious thoughts and behaviours. In most cases, people do not have the clarity of what they exactly need, or how they can have a better experience for fulfilling their needs. For this reason, I believe that, those involved in developing products and service are in need of new toolkits to do their job.

And I came across design thinking process and design based research tools after some research. One of the research methods, design ethnography is to observe users in their context. The “what to observe” is not focusing on problems, but on the users. By doing so, we have a chance to uncover hidden opportunities beyond critical thinking.

In turn, a designerly way of doing combines critical and creative thinking to design new solutions.

These were findings I had come away from reflecting on my work experience, and I eventually, decided to continue my education in design thinking and its application in business.

How to choose the best design thinking university programme?

Among my acquaintances and social community, many of them who are business strategists or technical professionals, are confused about how to choose the best university programme for enriching their career life by learning design thinking. As I am on this journey, I want to share with you some of my findings. When choosing the best place to learn design, as a practice or strategy, I recommend you to consider two essential aspects:

Programme structure

A good design thinker should be able to consider three different aspects at the same time – technology, business and design – to develop a practical, profitable and desirable idea.

Don't be misled by the term "thinking", design thinking, is a practical skill. As a result, you cannot learn it through simply comprehension, for example by listening to lectures or reading textbooks. Based on this notion, design education differentiates from other disciplinary education by bringing in businesses and organisations as clients and defining projects on solving real-world issues. In other words, students will work on a real project which has an employer behind it. In this environment, they can learn to apply design process and tools in a real setting, and at the same time, the experience could enrich their resume.

I chose the International Design and Business Management (ID&BM), a one-year Master of Design programme at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Its primary goal is to nurture T-shaped professionals. T-shaped professionals refer to those who have formal training in one field, like Engineering or Business, and on the other hand, possess a broad range of general knowledge in many other areas, such as Psychology or Art.

 Every Manager Needs to Be a Design Thinker

In the first semester, we have a local project and a China project to work on. One is about coming up with a new travel experience for Hong Kong’s Tramway, also referred as “ding ding cart”. The other project is about proposing education solutions for people in the rural areas of China.

To me, it is exciting that we will be presenting our proposal to representatives from clients, which means if we offer a well-designed solution we can deploy it in real life.

Multicultural teams with different backgrounds

The other important thing in design thinking is teamwork. You cannot find the best solution just by yourself. In design projects, you need various points of view to get a better understanding of customers and be more creative in ideation phase. Multicultural teams of members from diverse technical backgrounds are vital to the quality of learning environment.

Working in multicultural teams makes communication skills at personal and professional level become essential. It is a real challenge at first.

I work with four teammates on the Tram project. We come from different disciplinary and cultural background. We have members from business, engineering design and art backgrounds; we are from four different countries: Spain, Iran, Thailand and China.

 Every Manager Needs to Be a Design Thinker

The minute we started our group work, we faced many challenges in communicating with each other. The disorientation came from our own's different point of view. As the project progresses, we realized that the challenge is the process of learning and consider this diversity as an asset and use this to generate innovative ideas.

This project was supported by a theory subject called Cross-cultural Management taught by Prof. Michael Bond, a professor of Psychology. We were sensitised on this topic through field research and observation to get a better understanding of different cultures and its impact on teamwork.

My takeaway on the first 30 days of design thinking: To design better strategies, services and projects for people is to first immerse oneself in the context of users.

Photo Credit: Shahrzad Mirjahani Mohamadabadi 

Posted by Shahrzad Mirjahani Mohamadabadi - Shahrzad is passionate about experience design. She has a management background and before coming to PolyU, she was a business consultant. Shahrzad worked with Iranian startups to help them design a unique experience for their customers. Now she is studying International Design And Business Management in PolyU Design, to get a hands-on experience in design thinking approaches. 
MDes Talks is a series of Student Blogs contributed by students in different specialisms under the Master of Design Scheme. It is set out to share students’ first-hand experience in the d-school pedagogy, their projects, takeaways, and student life in general.