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Design Thinking: Understanding Creative Process for Small Business

According to Ellen Lupton, author/editor of Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming, “The concept design thinking commonly refers to the processes of ideation, research, prototyping and user interaction (p. 5).”

Design thinking is what really fuels what we might call the “creative process”. I am personally a proponent of the phrase “design thinking” because it rightly places the emphasis on “thinking.” Consider the term “brainstorming.” Often, the focus is on the “storming” and not on the “brain,” especially when it comes to creative professionals. Designers have not helped their own cause by sometimes lording over the design process as if it were a sacred ancient ritual.

Often the creative process is something that is, in my opinion, unnecessarily shrouded in mystery to clients and consumers of design services. I have found, in my short time as a professional creative serving small businesses and organizations, that transparency into the design process is good for me and for my clients. Upon entering the field as the owner of a creative services operation, this was something I was encouraged to do through books and other professionals. I was, however, reluctant to change at first. Many potential clients I now speak to are surprised to learn how much creativity is systematic rather than just spontaneous. Successful designers recognize the need for both.

A creative process is beneficial to both parties. Process allows the designer’s creativity to become reproducible and marketable and it provides a measure of trust and confidence for the client. It is reminiscent of some of those complicated, higher-level math problems from high school calculus. Of course, we want to deliver a successful design solution at the end of the process, but we also need to be able to show our work. Often, how a problem solver arrived as his solution is as valuable as the solution itself.

Unfortunately, an attitude that I sometimes encounter goes a bit like this: “Can’t you just sit down at the computer and make something eye-popping happen on the screen in a flash!” Yes, it should be expected that professional designers work efficiently and effectively, but value in design for business is created and sustained by communicating a message consistent with an established brand strategy. A solution may, upon viewing, elicit oohs and ahhs, but fail to function well as a form of business communication. This is what sets graphic design, as communication-centric art, apart from fine arts, which champions individual expression. The deliverable can’t just look good, it must communicate well.

Creative problem solving has value for all types of businesses. That being said, all aspects of the creative process are valuable. Designers and other business creatives must help clients understand the conceptual aspects of what they do and business leaders must respect and appreciate the vital conceptual components of the creative process. Innovation has always been powered by designers who think and thinkers who design.

Most small business owners and employees have heard and likely used the expression “back to the drawing board” when an idea or strategy has proven unsuccessful. For creative problem solvers who are trusted by businesses and organizations to create valuable communication tools, the “thinking” is as important as the “drawing.”

Sources: Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming. Ellen Lupton, editor. Princeton Architectural Press, New York. 2011

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