Notes from Design Thinking Summit 2010

I was given a complementary pass to attend the Design Thinking Summit at Singapore Polytechnic (SP) on 29 September 2010. It was a fantastic and well organised event. The following paragraphs are the key learning points that I noted from the event.

Mr. Tan Hang Cheong, the Principal for SP, gave an interesting opening address. He mentioned that SP active involvement in the field of Design Thinking was driven by a desire to groom ‘T-shaped’ graduate*. That is, a graduate who has deep expertise as well as creative thinking. SP would collaborate with Livewell Collaborative and DesignWorks to embark on Design Thinking projects and further promote it to the enterprises and government agencies in Singapore.



Mr. Tan cited Nespresso as an example of companies who use Design Thinking as a strategy to drive Innovation. As what Craig M.Vogel, the Associate Dean for Research from the University of Cincinnati (USA) said afterward, Nespresso did more than just inventing a better coffee-making machine, Nespresso re-invented the meaning of coffee-making from a ritual and mindless activity to an enjoyable activity. This ‘reinvention-of-forms-and-functions-of-a-tool‘ is at the core of Design Thinking. Such reinvention requires empathy. It is about looking from the eyes of the customers and making their life easy. Craig M.Vogel, who was one of the four keynote speakers, gave an example of a product as a result of empathy: the Swiffer – a cleaning solution that makes cleaning fuss free.

The next keynote speaker, Matthew J. Doyle, is the Director and Senior Researcher in Procter & Gamble (P&G). He made a shockingly honest confession: “Historically, collaboration at the P&G was rare”, because of the deeply ingrained “Do-It-Yourself” and/or “Not-Invented-Here” culture within the organisation. He added, for P&G, new products were the result of research on the existing ones. In other words, Innovation, for P&G, is about invasion to adjacent technologies, in which P&G has mastered. However, in 2001, P&G’s growth had slowed. And their return of investment on research had steadily decreased partly because they tried to invent everything by themselves. P&G’s “Not-Invented-Here” culture is no longer working! Realizing this, P&G embraced “Open Innovation” model. A good way to start is from the intersection among Social, Economic, and Technology. He cited Tide product as a result of P&G’s new stance on Innovation. The Tide product packaging was designed for consumers aged 50 and above (the Baby boomers) – who have not only spending power, but also a weaker hand grip than the younger people. The product’s benefits are exemplified using cartoon characters.

The third speaker, Heather Fraser, is the Director of DesignWorks & Rotman’s Design Initiative. She said many useful things about Design Thinking, of which two points stand out (illustrated in the two graphs below):

Design's Value to Business

3 Gears of Business Design

The fourth and last, but not least, keynote speaker is Vijay Kumar, a Professor from Illinois Institute of Technology. He mentioned that there are three sources of Innovation: (1) Business opportunity; (2) Technology possibility; (3) Design innovation which is based on deep understanding of users. He cited several success cases: Alexandra hospital, INO phone, Singapore Airlines and Naumi hotel. To practice Design Thinking, we ought to know its four principles, said Prof. Kumar. The four principles of Design thinking are:

  1. Build innovation around people’s experience. To do this, we need empathy. We need to re-frame the products’ form and function in terms of life journey, user needs, or user motivation. For example: (a) the mini Cooper – a car that makes driving fun and cool, i.e. it gave a new meaning to driving experience; (b) Nike – shoes that make running feels good, i.e. it improves running experience; (c) Apple ipod. ipod is not a better MP3 player. It is a product that supports music listening experience.
  2. Think Innovation as Systems. Let’s take Apple ipod for an example of a system. Apple ipod is not just about innovative MP3 player. It offers innovative service in the form of iTunes. It also offers an innovative channel in the form of Apple store. Ipod is about innovative networking and branding as well. There are many more innovative things to say about Apple ipod, but you should get the idea by now: Look for Innovation opportunities from different angle!
  3. Adopt a Disciplined Innovation Planning Process. While there are many Innovation planning process in the management world, Prof. Kumar suggested the following process: (1) Sensing Intent; (2) Know Context; (3) Know People; (4) Frame Insights; (5) Explore Concept; (6) Frame Solution; (7) Realize Offerings. Please see the illustration below for an overview of the Innovation planning process.

    innovation planning toolkit

    innovation planning toolkit

  4. Cultivate Innovation Culture. As Prof. Kumar mentioned earlier, there are three sources of Innovation, namely Business, Technology, and Design. It is important to note that Innovation based on Business and Technology requires almost similar habits (or work processes): Identify Business / Technology Needs –> Create Concepts –> Fit the concept to people. On the other hand, Innovation based on Design requires the reverse habits (or work processes) of Innovation based on Business and Technology: Understand people –> Create Concept –> Build business. So, before an organisation can cultivate their Innovation culture, they would have to promote the right kind of habits that suit the overall organisation’s culture.


*SP’s desire to groom graduates with ‘T-shaped’ skills is inline with the Singapore government direction. Finance Minister Tharman S., said in Feb 2010, that Singapore workers need to have ‘T-shaped competencies’.

Further Reading:

Kumar, V. (2004). Innovation Planning Toolkit.

Doblin’s Ten Types of Innovation.

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3 thoughts on “Notes from Design Thinking Summit 2010

  1. Pingback: Notes from Design Thinking Summit 2010 « Thinking Out Loud with Roan inn university

  2. Thanks for sharing. Do you know whether there is some sort of certification we can get for this, or is this purely through reading and gaining insights at these events?

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