Design thinking in action at Dow Design: the best results stem from loving the problem

Why we should all learn to love problems – especially those of our clients.

Earlier this year, NZTE’s Better by Design service sent 35 New Zealand companies to San Francisco to meet with and learn from the world’s design heavyweights. The third US Study Tour included visits to IDEO, Google, Intuitive Surgical, Survey Monkey, SYPartners, Cisco, and others. Here's what Dow Design director Annie Dow took away.

annie dow design thinkingWhat were the tour highlights for you?

There were so many learnings. Overall the theme of collaboration - coupled with more empathy for the client’s perspective – stands out.

I loved the underlying conviction I found throughout to ‘fall in love with the problem (not the solution)’ to get great results.  It brought about a ‘light bulb’ moment for me because I realised that this is exactly what is required to deal with the tension that naturally exists in a design company between client services, who understand the client’s point of view, and the designers who naturally love, and are protective of, their designs. I don’t think there is a more ‘customer centric’ approach to solving the customer’s problem than by loving it; it leads one to think outside of the box and encourages the rich ideas that really can change brands.

 What is the most significant action you have taken since you returned to New Zealand and how would you like to implement the tour learnings long-term?

I have come back with so many ideas to make Dow Design an even more inspiring and creative place in which to work.  Some initial changes, involving some of the simple but innovative practices I saw when visiting places such as IDEO and Stanford University’s d. School, are already in progress. Most notable so far is to convert some of our wall spaces into whiteboards to help team members capture and share ideas with post-it notes and pens, as they occur. We will also be building team member Duos (two people working together – “the smallest atomic unit of trust”) to help spark greater creativity among our designers.

What are your plans for Dow Design over the coming months/year?

I want to introduce the best practices around collaboration and empathy to help us lead innovative and effective brand design thinking. I want our designers to passionately embrace the sentiment of ‘loving their (client’s) problem’ because it is such a powerful driver to open up new ways of addressing client challenges.  By encouraging us always to be curious and to look at problems from different perspectives, it leads to open-ended thinking and greater creativity. It’s a mindset that will produce exceptional branding solutions.