Thinking About Design Thinking? - IEDP
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Thinking About Design Thinking?

Lessons from the world of design applied to problem solving in the work place


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‘Design-thinking’ is now widely recognized as a winning approach to solving business problems. On the other hand, innovation in online executive program delivery is in its infancy — but design-thinking is perhaps an appropriate starting point.

A pioneering new online program from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, aimed at anyone leading strategy, product, or business model innovation, will explain the value of design methodologies, and shows how they can be used successfully at all levels of an organization to improve problem solving processes and take innovation to a higher level.

“Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones...Today’s leaders can apply many of the lessons learned in the world of design to strategy-making in the work place,” wrote course leader and Darden professor Jeanne Liedtka in the book 'Rotman on Design' (University of Toronto Press, 2013).

The concept behind design-thinking is that methods used by architects and product designers can be effectively used to innovate in business or even personal situations. Unlike analytical or critical thinking, which focus on the detailed dissection of a problem, design-thinking is a creative process based around prototyping and viewing the problem in association with potential end solutions; this encourages broad input and multiple participation, with all ideas welcome however crazy, so eliminating the fear of failure which can often haunt the innovation process.

Using design skills such as ethnography, visualization, storytelling, and experimentation, team leaders can not only stimulate product and service design but can crucially find innovative solutions to problems around strategy implementation, internal process structure, employee engagement etc.

Darden say their online program, starting this September, is for “Professionals from any industry who want to problem solve more creatively.” Participants will be able to apply the design-thinking process to one of their real-life challenges. Using a clear, guided process that combines creative right-brained thinking — like brainstorming and visualization — with traditional left-brained analysis, you will reach an innovative solution.

The program called ‘Design Thinking for Innovative Problem Solving’ is the first fully online Executive Education course from Darden and will eventually form part of a series.

But if you are thinking: what can design-thinking do for me? Darden offers these examples of where it can be used to solve common challenges faced by organizations:

  • Redesign internal processes
  • Develop a new employee evaluation system
  • Streamline a customer call centre system
  • Enliven strategic planning processes
  • Deepen customer/stakeholder engagement:
  • Create powerful co-creation conversations with customers
  • Improve the sales tool kit
  • Address pressing social sector issues:
  • Improve meal delivery to the elderly
  • Revitalize urban spaces
  • Improve education and leadership development:
  • Embed new capabilities for creative thinking in organizations
  • Create new social networking models


For over half a century, Darden Executive Education has served as a critical resource for businesses around the world, conveying the relevant strategies and specific business skills needed to formulate decisions, set action plans and apply sustainable options.

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