How design thinking can get more from urban space

 —  Article by Serene Lim
top view of vivo city, a new shopping center in singapore.
Image credit: Shutterstock

From building community centers to office spaces, governments and companies have been turning to so-called design thinking to shape experiences for the better.

Design thinking is a problem-solving method. It applies the design process – from creating ideas to testing their functionality – to business and social issues.

Tech firms such as Google have used it to structure its work environment and focus on the employee experiences. Cities like Dublin and Singapore have actively embraced it to reimagine civic life for its residents.

“There is a clear business advantage to design thinking – meaning thinking creatively and taking a human-centric approach to solve problems,” according to Tim Kobe, CEO and Founder of Eight Inc, speaking at Innovfest Unbound, an innovation festival held in Singapore.

In 1997 Kobe helped launch the first Apple stores, which center around space as an extension of the brand and its products, and ultimately changed the way many brands think about their outlets and products.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently said that design thinking was a factor for the city-state’s transformation and success, adding that many of the policies implemented in areas such as housing and urban development were a result of defining the problem, thinking of creative ideas and solutions before testing and reviewing constantly.

So what makes design thinking a model for success? These are the key factors, Kobe told the Innovfest Unbound audience:

  • It creates a sense of community for users

“People are looking out for a community, connecting with people in what it is they are doing – whether in a physical or virtual way – or connecting with community that share a common set of values.

“Companies can define these values based on the experiences they focus on [creating], particularly though their offices. The key to passion and loyalty [to a company or a brand] is when you use design to create that connection between the company values and those of its community.

  • It drives adoption and builds value

“An idea is never innovation. An idea is a good start but innovation comes from people who adopt it. When you get people to adopt what you have created, you typically have a successful business.

“I can’t tell you how many CEOs tell me, ‘Look I’ve gone from one consultant to another consultant, I spent a million and a half (dollars), tell me what you are going to do for me.’ All of that is great – you’ve framed the problem, you developed the right criteria, you looked at trends and you’ve done all of the homework. But you have not done the actual work yet as these don’t give you the solutions or change your business until you deliver things that people adopt.”

  • Sensitivity to people results in economic success

“Singapore is a great example in which there is effectively very few things you can look at and argue that they are not well considered. You may not agree with the solution, but everything is well considered.

“If you think about it, Singapore’s economic success as a city was due to the late Lee Kuan Yew’s ‘design’. The late Prime Minister considered a much broader context rather than just singular verticals or categories. While strengthening housing and other aspects of the economy, (Lee) was also planting 10,000 trees a year.”

Sensitivity to the human outcomes “often leads to successful business outcomes. This is essential for the development of tomorrow’s offices and cities.

“It is always about getting consumer outcomes aligned so that business supports that.”

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