In the past few decades, design has become increasingly recognised as a driver of economic growth. Communication, interaction, product, gaming and fashion are just a few examples of well-known design disciplines where designers have successfully used their specific expertise and approaches to create innovation.

But the world has become increasingly complex, and designers have begun to use their unique approaches and qualities to tackle other issues. These include highly complex problems, usually in the form of social or cultural challenges such as poverty, sustainability, health, wellness or equality. With stakeholders often holding conflicting perspectives, and a multitude of shifting and unfamiliar elements, these problems are very difficult to define – and are labelled “wicked problems”.

Design has become a crucial contributor where established innovation processes have struggled

Design today, with its unique methods and processes, is exploring way beyond traditional design tasks and has become a crucial contributor to problem solving strategies where other established innovation processes have struggled.

With design thinking these intellectual and practical design qualities are formalised and combined into a methodology that emphasises empathy, ethnographic research, playful ideation, and prototyping with rapid testing cycles. This provides a structured yet creative and agile approach to innovation. The field of design today is achieving success not only in the development of communication and products, but also of services and systems.

Designers can apply their knowledge and problem solving skills in a variety of ways, for example by:

  • creating innovative social media communications
  • developing products that truly make a difference in peoples’ lives
  • inventing new meaningful service experiences
  • strategically planning new systems and environments to help citizens to actively engage in their communities

An increasing number of businesses have understood the significant value design thinking and its processes can add to their competitive capacity. Yet in the public sector very few countries have begun to utilise design-driven methods in order to support innovation within public services. Denmark, France, Australia and the UK are some examples where Design Thinking is considered as a new means to approach innovation projects within the public sector.

Oliver Szasz introduces the Design Thinking for Public Good Symposium

Oliver Szasz introduces the Design Thinking for Public Good Symposium

The Design Thinking For Public Good Symposium 2015, which I hosted at Munich Creative Business Week, aimed to raise awareness of design thinking theory and practice amongst public sector delegates. The event also connected them to design practitioners from private organisations to help facilitate exchange and foster learning.

The symposium was advertised to a wide range of public sector organisations, and the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Media, Energy and Technology were in particular eager to hear about the potentials of design thinking methods being used in innovation processes. Senior officials recommended that the event be part of the Ministry’s further education programme, but despite the ministry funding the symposium, only a few representatives participated on the day.

Despite these challenges, the symposium did attract more than 100 participants from diverse professions and institutions. These included SMEs, education organisations, non-profits and press, and this wide mix reflects the desire in the region to understand more about the topic. We are now working with the Ministry to understand more about how to communicate the value of design thinking to this sector, and to get a clearer picture as to how they can integrate design thinking into their day to day work.

Overall, the feedback that we received from the event indicates that there is still a perception that design is very much about styling. There is a long way to go for this sector to understand that design is also a way of thinking and a process that can be applied by non-designers – we hope to continue to raise awareness around the benefits of design thinking.