Written by Heather Mack (Weekend MBA 2017) and Alumni Advisory Board member. 

Falling for design thinking

I chose Imperial College Business School for my MBA because of its strengths in innovation.  I hadn’t imagined though that the Innovation, Entrepreneurism and Design module would prove so influential in my MBA journey. In our first year, when we had been set the case studies on design thinking I remember the reading just resonating with me. From that point on I chose to take design management as an elective in our second year, and from there to dedicate my final project to researching how to unlock the power of design.

Design thinking’s adoption within organisations


What caught my attention about design thinking is that by developing empathy for the experience of your end user you can create a solution that better meets their needs. This user-centricity in turn drives innovation, a buzzword that abounds within the corporate world.

However, design thinking has still to be fully embraced by organisations. The research I undertook for my dissertation revealed that those who do adopt design thinking are often deemed mavericks. You also typically require a strong personality at the top of an organisation, who recognises its benefits, driving its adoption before it’s considered the norm. This partly explains why design thinking has yet to be embraced by the mainstream. It turns out though that more of us should turn to design thinking because research undertaken by the Design Council UK revealed that for every £1 spent on design resulted in a £20 increase in revenue.

Are we missing a trick?

All too often, particularly in my role as a management consultant, my work is driven by client-centricity. Given that my performance is measured on the feedback I receive from my clients, I focus my efforts on making sure that my work meets and exceeds my client’s expectations, rather than my client’s customer expectations. And because design thinking is not widely heard about, few clients are comfortable with pivoting and becoming customer-centric, if they too do not receive the internal recognition for taking this approach.

The potential of being design-led

In today’s world, most people are comfortable with the focus on customer experience. They also see and experience good design as customers when they interface with well-designed products and services made by the likes of the Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. These organisations in turn raise the bar around customer experience so that other organisations must follow suit.

Thanks to this, people are gradually realising that design is about more than what something looks like; it’s about a focus on using insights derived from customer intimacy, combined with imagination, to drive innovation.

Bringing design thinking in to my professional life

Recently I have been asking myself how I bring this interface of insights and imagination into my professional world.  At my current employer, I am looking to influence our work with clients so that we take more of a design-led approach to our projects. Given the constraints of working within a Big 4, I am encountering the usual siloes that exist due to its size and scale. However, I have been buoyed by the recent interest across my team and in other areas of the business to bring design thinking into the firm.

It’s been interesting to note that the term design thinking sometimes scares people away, as they do not know enough about the topic to feel comfortable incorporating its approach onto a project. Yet, in talking to colleagues it appears that some areas of the business are indeed taking a design-led approach, but are not overtly calling it out as such.

A recent internal training course on design thinking encouraged us to use design thinking tools and apply them to the firm’s own processes, and in particular to look at the onboarding experience of new hires in to the business. It was uplifting to see the way that my fellow learners relished the creative outlet that design thinking provided. Having interviewed colleagues about their personal onboarding experiences, the solutions that people came up with resonated well, and I am pleased to say that our recruitment team are looking at implementing some of our ideas.

The future for design thinking within my consultancy

I am encouraged by the pockets of activity that are bubbling across the firm, with different teams searching for ways to upskill colleagues and bring design thinking methodologies to both our client and internal work.

I believe that design thinking should become a core consulting skill. Its focus on imagination and creativity enables colleagues to present original ideas that respond to user needs. This in turn drives innovation, which our clients are demanding. So it can only be a win-win situation to embrace design thinking.