Maturity of a Movement

Written by Parker Gates
Posted July 11, 2016

So, I’ve spent some time thinking about and comparing the work we’ve been doing for the past few years with what we’ve been working on for the past 20 months or so. Year to year, the work we’re doing and the requests we’re getting are more advanced and complex than in years past. And yes, this is partly due to expanding our services and experiences, but I think this more importantly speaks to the maturity of design thinking as a movement.

My hunch is that leaders are seeing more evidence of what a design based approach is doing for companies/industries. There are more stories. More anecdotal evidence.

If in any way this is a barometer, we are getting fewer requests for something like a half day introduction to design thinking and more commonly seeing interest in longer term engagements where design is thoughtfully introduced to an organization at large, and more deeply infused to pockets of teams and individuals. Leadership is seeking help transforming cultures into groups of curious problem solvers. They want teams acting like internal start-ups. “Innovation Labs” are all over the place and even though they seem to be having a tough time getting started, there is a sincere desire to do things differently. To accomplish more work. Better work, in an authentic way.

Leaders aren’t coming to us to find new ways to increase revenue or cut costs, they genuinely seem to care about the people they serve as well as their customers.

So what? What does this mean?
Well, to me, it means a few things:

It means that awareness is way up.
There are more stories with meaningful results.
We are meeting more and more “Directors of Innovation,” or “Design Strategy Leaders.” Titles that didn’t exist five years ago are now commonplace.

It means that design thinking as a movement is growing up and showing prodigious results. And not just in the ways it was promised to us. Not just as a methodology for finding consistent innovation, but as a fresh set of behaviors and mindsets… new ways of working on lots of things, not just “innovation” work.

And last, but definitely not least, it means that we get to do good meaningful work that changes people’s lives for the better. Personally, I have to be doing that in order to wake up every day and bring my “A” game; to bring the energy and presence and interest required to move the needle.

I have to give a shit or I just won’t do it well.

A question that I think about often is “where is this going?” The super cool thing (to me) is that I don’t know. I don’t have to know. I get to continue to observe and be involved and even help drive to some degree. And, in this way, I get to employ several classic design thinking mindsets like radical collaboration, bias to action, staying human-centered, and embracing experimentation.

This is one man’s observation. I didn’t poll anyone or sit down for long empathy interviews with hundreds of people. Take it for what you will, but from my point of view, design thinking as a movement is growing up and getting more sophisticated. It has broader application and the language surrounding it feels more accessible by more people. Maybe design thinking is still a teenager. Gangly and awkward and unsure in certain situations…but it’s no longer a little baby who needs our constant help all the time. It can definitely stand on it’s own two feet!

Now my question to you, those we have worked with us in the past and/or those of you who have been practicing human centered design, is where do you think this is headed? What does the next iteration look like in your mind’s eye?

  • I think design is moving from exotic art to repeatable science and migrating in-house to become a corporate function, until it ultimately embeds into the DNA of the company. It reminds me of the Total Quality Movement, and has similar parallels. More on that history here:

  • The visibility of the DT approach is indeed higher than it’s ever been. What I’ve heard now is the concern or worry about how to maintain momentum, especially following the “bias toward action” energy from a workshop.