The evolution of design that has unfolded over the past century is likely best explained by Richard Buchanan’s Four Orders of Design. Buchanan, a professor of design, management, and information systems, suggests that as an organization matures in its use of design, it tends to move from visual design and graphic communication, to industrial design and products, to brands and interactions, and then finally to systems.
Buchanan summarized in the Fourth Order, that attention shifts to the design of systems in which people interact with one another, including businesses, organizations, education, and governments. The shift from designing products and services to designing systems includes the design of social systems, including organizations, that begin to take into consideration the role of culture.
But we think there is more. With the acceleration of changes in technology that advanced our capability to communicate and create a broader array of customer and user experience, the application of design has also accelerated.
Powered by design thinking at scale, a new level of awareness is now enabled. Design thinking actually is the creation of awareness, the sharing of knowledge. As demonstrated in my new book with Edgar Papke, Innovation by Design, design thinking not only provides a methodology that both naturally and intentionally leverages the collective imaginations and transforms cultures into being more innovative. It also provides a path to the intentional design of culture. It provides design thinking organizations with the opportunity to step into the Fifth Order of Design – Awareness.
Design thinking organizations are learning organizations, and use design thinking to increase understanding and ultimately awareness; of the real problems, of customers, of obstacles, of options, of knowledge, and of one another. In effect, by using design thinking to empower creativity and collective imagination, organizations develop the means to step further toward what lies at the core of human-centered experiences – our basic human needs and motivation.
And one can use this to actually design corporate culture. Typically, to affect the cultures of our organizations, we rely on restructurings and the implementation of data driven solutions as process improvement. This is merely scratching at the surface of culture change, let alone transformation. To successfully engage in the necessary level of change, or the design of culture, requires us to be able to deconstruct and reconstruct it, and to be able to understand how to create it anew.
When we talk about designing culture, we’re setting the stage for designing the intentional interaction of people. And, we move from the intellectual exercise of organizational design to the emotional aspects of human behavior. This involves a keen understanding of who and why, resulting in the creative expression of how. Design thinking at scale is the model to enable this higher level of achievement.
How we have used design thinking has changed rapidly and we now find ourselves responding to a new way of thinking and experiencing our world. More and more, we are questioning how and why we interact with one another in our organizations in the way we do. We question intention and purpose, and what our motivations are. As we further develop our capacity to innovate, who and how we participate with one another will expand and change. The shift to greater transparency requires us to more consciously design and develop the cultures and learning capacities of our organizations.
To this we add a macro environment in which the relationships between companies and their customers are becoming more open and interlinked. Customers are becoming active members in the design of the products and services with the organizations they are buying them from. More and more, influencing how they are created, branded, sold, and delivered. With these shifts, comes a new set of requirements for organizations, their leaders and the people in them. More open systems and engaging means of participation are required.