Creating Value from “Design Thinking”

At a time when manufacturing and services are being outsourced, margins narrowed and the threat of commoditization a concern, organizations and their management need to foster what Assistant Professor Siobhán O´Mahony calls “design thinking” among their rank and file to maintain a competitive advantage. This spring, O’Mahony taught a new elective course, “Design and Business,” that explored the ways in which companies can create and articulate aesthetic value and apply design principles to create sustainable competitive advantage, address technical and customer challenges, produce enjoyable experiences and enhance customer loyalty. Cases and class examples included companies well known for their ability to create aesthetic value such as: Alessi, Starbucks, Apple, OXO Kitchen Tools, Porsche, Herman Miller, Target and Nike. Working in teams, the students considered design innovations for a product or service that has a negative environmental impact or one that could address the needs of 90% of the developing world. Using prototyping tools and researching customer needs, the students’ new product concepts included a solar toolbox, a solar stove, a composting service and even a solar cremation service. Guest speakers also shared how their companies apply design thinking concepts. Alumna Sungene Ryang ’04, who works in the Consumer Experience Design at IDEO, discussed how design thinking is embedded in the firm’s organizational culture. Strachan Forgan and Richard Tepp of Sasaki & Associates, the architectural firm that designed the School’s new building, Gallagher Hall, demonstrated their client-focused and multi-disciplinary approach to visualizing design and concepts for what is expected to be the first LEED®-certified Gold building at UC Davis. According to O´Mahony, managers don’t have to be trained as designers to practice design thinking. Her students learned to reframe problems by thinking deeply about the latent needs of consumers and by applying design concepts holistically to products and services with an eye toward business, aesthetic and environmental concerns.