Next Generation Business Problems: Design thinking

The next-generation business problem that excites Dr Gene Bawden is making peoples’ lives easier.

Businesses lose customers the moment they make life hard for them. No longer can businesses expect a customer to expend great effort. If they do, a competitor will be along to take that customer and destroy their business. And yet many businesses put their customers through flawed processes.

“Everyone has a bad experience of something that needs fixing,” says Monash University’s Dr Gene Bawden. Fixing experiences, he explains, can be achieved with design thinking.

“Design thinking is about problem solving, but also about creative problem definition,” he says. “Design is not what it was even five years ago. Design as a profession is not about an aesthetic application.  It is a much more socially engaged process. It is a much more strategic process.”

As the private sector continually strives to provide simpler and more streamlined products, government departments are coming under pressure to improve the way they offer services.

Centrelink, Australia’s welfare agency, is a prime example, Bawden says.

“Centrelink needs to have a much more empathetic process attached to it - one that understands people that are challenged by many things. Whatever you are going there for, you don’t want to be there. Yet the systems in place add to anxiety and sense of hopelessness.”

The rigid systems have proved costly for Centrelink’s political masters. In 2016/17, Centrelink’s failure to communicate clearly with clients meant some of them were incorrectly informed they may have debts. A political scandal ensued.

“They don’t make enough use of online facilities either,” Bawden says.  “It’s 2017 and Centrelink is making people fill out forms with a biro!”

Design thinking would draw on customers’ own experiences in redesigning the process. “They don’t need to invent anything,” Dr Bawden explains.  “Just look at what we have in the world already and apply it in a creative way.”

Design Thinking is central to the new Monash MBA curriculum. “Working with MBA students involves applying processes of discovery, analysis and resolution. Our task is to provide tools and methodologies for addressing any number of challenges. The MBA class has proven really good at this because they learn to think in ‘designerly’ ways informed by their own expertise, and unencumbered by a traditional design capacity that often leaps to a product-orientated solution. They think strategically through design methods,” Bawden says.