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Design thinking - design’s prodigal son?

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journal contribution
posted on 2019-01-29, 12:02 authored by Peter (Maynooth University Department of Design Innovation) Robbins
Businesses are increasingly facing complex, even wicked, operating conditions with hypercompetition, digital disruption, faster cycle-times, a shift in power to their consumers and often a race to the bottom in pricing as the internet provides a new (and, at times, unhelpful) level of transparency. The twin forces of globalisation and digitisation are removing the traditional barriers to entry so that established firms can no longer rely on manufacturing capacity, global supply chain or even great distribution channels to stop challengers capsizing their business. Despite such hostile conditions, companies are still tasked with revenue and share growth. Many businesses look to innovation as their saviour and they pile resources into new product development. However, results are generally patchy because innovation is risky, it’s messy, it’s nonlinear, it carries a high risk of failure and most companies don’t have the skilled personnel or the experience to navigate their way through the potential minefield of creating new products, new experiences, new services or new business models. But there is one innovation technique, in particular, to which many businesses are turning. Design Thinking has attracted significant attention in the management journals, in the business press and in business in general. It has been championed by established global brands like Apple and, equally, by disruptors like Hailo and Airbnb. Ironically, the one constituency in which it is still regarded with a degree of suspicion is the design industry itself. Some suggest that this is because the design community are shy of oversimplifying their object of study. This article will examine the rise of Design Thinking and explain precisely what it is and how it has evolved from the theory and practice of design. Finally, we speculate whether the Prodigal Son is, in fact, a relevant metaphor and we conclude that more insight might be found in one of Aesop’s fables. Page










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