Why do companies need design thinking in the future?

20 Jul 2017

Lesley Tully, head of design thinking at Bank of Ireland, speaking at Inspirefest 2017. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Companies that are focused on bottom lines can often leave design thinking by the wayside. However, this is a major oversight.

Design has often been thought of as part of the art world, while money was the focus of the business world.

However, over time, the two worlds have started to blend together and that is where design thinking comes into play.

Lesley Tully is the head of design thinking at Bank of Ireland (BOI). She was brought into the fold to re-engage with customers the bank already have, and appeal to the ones it didn’t.

Tully had a solid grounding in design thinking to achieve this. She had spent a long time in the art world, where creativity truly is king and commercialism is just a by-product.

“For a very long time, I’ve been obsessed with understanding how creativity and commercialism can collide,” she said, speaking at Inspirefest 2017. “Business can fail to understand really how to bring creativity together.”

However, it is this blend of creativity and business that can create solutions to the problems consumers face, and these problems can often be completely different to what any given business will assume.

Addressing real needs

Part of the process of design thinking is finding out what your customers’ needs really are and not just what you think they are. Tully said that when BOI employees spoke to entrepreneurs while Ireland was climbing out of recession, they discovered that “their needs and their wants from a bank were very different to what we thought they were”.

Entrepreneurs were not looking for loans, overdrafts or credit cards – they wanted an alternative space to work from compared to the cafés and basements they were used to. “We listened to those needs, we designed for those needs and, in doing so, we created our Workbenches.”

While the Workbenches were quiet at first, Tully said once the community could see that they were there for them, they started to come. She cited one of their biggest success stories, which saw a group of guys leave big corporations to create something different. “That company is called Plynk,” she said. “Two years ago, it didn’t exist; two weeks ago, it raised €25m in its first round of funding.”

Finding solutions

The example of creating Workbenches highlights the process that goes into design thinking and Tully said that process starts with empathy. “You cannot be creative if you cannot have empathy.”

For companies, this means sitting, listening and understanding the real problems of real people. Tully said the second part of the process is defining what those problems are. “This is possibly one of the hardest parts.”

Once a company has correctly identified the problems, it’s time to come up with ideas and solutions before creating a prototype.

“Finally, you test,” said Tully. “Getting a low-fi version prototype out into the world and understanding how people respond to it, listening to their needs and designing accordingly.”

Aside from benefiting companies themselves, design thinking will play a valuable role in society and it could be the answer to future problems we know are coming, such as technology’s effect on the job market. “When knowledge workers like yourselves and myself do not have work, how do we provide for ourselves?”

She finished addressing the Inspirefest audience by encouraging everyone to “consider the positive way design thinking can help”.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Ultra Early Bird Tickets for Inspirefest 2018 will be on sale soon. Sign up here to be the first to know when!

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic