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DESIGN MINDSET (it's not all about tools)

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

“Everyone likes to focus on processes and toolsets because they can see, touch, and use them. But without the service design mindset, people will end up with the same internally focused solutions with the same awful customer experiences they have today.”

— Jeff McGrath

The design approach brings fresh lenses with which individuals and organisations see their work, challenges, and  resources. Service Design Thinking is predominantly associated with methods, processes and tools. But the thing that affects how they are used and applied is the designer’s mindset. Tools are easy to use, mindsets are hard to shake off. 

I believe the narrative needs to change. These 12 core mindset attributes are a food for thought.


“Collaboration has no hierarchy. The Sun collaborates with soil to bring flowers on the earth.”

― Amit Ray

Co-creation is an essential design method that involves all the stakeholders in the process to find a solution for a problem. Neither customers nor employees want to be treated as passive recipients of your services. They want to be involved in what is created for them and share their experiences, be that happiness, joy, anger, or frustration. The “take it or leave it” business approach is rather a recipe for an expensive failure. Learn what is valuable to your users, employees and stakeholders by inviting them to the design process from the very beginning.


“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

― Sylvia Plath

What will be the most coveted skill of the future? Put your bet on creativity. Creativity is essential to success in any project. Creative-thinking skills are needed to innovate in any context. When it comes to crafting solutions and making leaps from the existing to the imaginary, you need to be confident in your problem-solving abilities. Doubting your own creativity? It is motivating to know that creativity is not just a talent you’re born with. Look at it as a muscle which needs to be trained in order to develop. 


“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious”

― A. Einstein

To the great (design) thinkers, curiosity is essential. It is one of nature’s greatest gifts and lucky you if you were born naturally curious. As design thinker and doer you should not be afraid to try, explore and question everything around you. Be in a constant pursuit of novelty and expand your horizons. Your curiosity will lead you across borders to uncharted territories, outside of your own challenge so that you discover the non-obvious. Harness your curiosity and your hunger to always be learning.


“On the road from the City of Skepticism, I had to pass through the Valley of Ambiguity.”

―  Adam Smith

Out in the world, it’s chaotic, ambiguous and full of uncertainty. Keep your cool when dealing with complex problem situations The unexpected and irrational require/demand an attitude of being comfortable with the inherent ambiguity and opaqueness of the challenges faced. Allow yourself to dive into the unknown and leave doors open as long as possible. Being comfortable with not knowing the answer and not jumping to conclusions is how you find insights and creative breakthroughs.


“You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you. But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.”

― Pocahontas

Empathy means being able to understand the needs of others. You’re aware of their feelings and how it impacts their perception. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with how they see things; rather, that you’re willing and able to appreciate what the other person is experiencing.

Empathy is foundational for building bridges between individuals, understanding each other’s’ complex emotions, gaining a diverse perspective, and leveraging relationships for collaboration and progress.


“We spend a lot of time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.”

– Dr. Prabhjot Singh

At the root of every innovation are human needs. With an obsessive focus on understanding multiple perspectives, service design thinking is a deeply human centered method, made by and for the people. Gain insight by studying humans and uncovering their everyday thinking, motivations and pressing problems. It’s about building a deep empathy by listening, observing and co-creating. Start with the people you’re designing for and end with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs.


“The greatest teacher, failure is.”

– Yoda

People see failure as a negative thing. But in order to learn from failure, you have to be willing to fail. In design thinking, failure is seen as a way to discover new opportunities, learn and evolve.  Failure is an incredibly powerful tool for learning as it takes you one step closer to success. Creative designers fail as anyone else but this does not stop them because they understand that failed experiments are not actually a failure as long as they teach you a lesson. The point is not to get it right on the first try, but to keep exploring, asking, and testing.


“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”

― Apple commercial

Do you want to make the world a better place? Do you often identify a specific problem and the potential for change in a situation, and give yourself permission to do something about it? If you are tenacious about the greater good, you will make a great design practitioner. In pursuit of impact equip yourself with determination and resilience as often you’ll need to persuade and negotiate with the status quo aficionados. Authenticity, confidence and relentlessness are the secret sauce for winning the hearts and minds of your peers and advocating for change.


“Design is optimistic. Designers dream of a future that doesn't yet exist, and work to bring that future to life.”

― Jon Kolko 

How do you react when facing challenges, provocations and setbacks? Do you start over analyzing and finding excuses why progress is not an option or do you embrace the possibility that the answer is out there? The design thinker and doer is optimistic that every problem is solvable. Putting something new into the world takes an element of faith, too. Keep going even when you hit dead ends and know that impossible is nothing.  Optimism fuels your drive and energy to focus on what could be and bring the future to life.


“A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

– William G.T. Shedd

Many organisations fail to innovate just because they don’t dare take the risk for disruptive innovation. But the designer’s mindset in not one of threats, but of opportunity. Design thinking and doing requires a different way of thinking. Develop that growth mindset by being bold enough to take creative risks. Instead of trying to avoid challenges, explore new solutions, however crazy and unconventional they might seem. Treat risk as an experiment that might work or it might fail. But each time something doesn’t work, you have learnt a valuable lesson. 


“Don’t get ready, get started.”

– Perry Klebahn, d.School

Have you wondered how much more we could have achieved if we didn’t plan and talk endlessly about how things could be? Instead of getting lost in a cycle of discussion, just do. Success requires a bias for action. By trying and experimenting you might fail, but you will learn a valuable lesson. In a world of thinkers and planners, become a doer. Get out of your own head and make your ideas tangible. Showing your prototype is a fantastic way to gather feedback and improve.


"No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it."

– H.E. Luccock

Affinity for team work is a prerequisite for designers. Designers are often embarking on ambiguous journeys, trying to address complex problem situations that are part of complex systems. Being smart is not enough and you should acknowledge that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. But having diverse perspectives is both enriching and challenging. Focus on building trust, positive culture and constructive dialogue with your teammates and the advantages of multi-disciplinary collaboration won’t be long.


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