I saw something online the other day that attempted to answer the question, “how is innovation related to design thinking?” The response, written by John Coyle, a former Olympic speed skater and CEO at Speaking Design Thinking, caught my eye. He began his response by reversing the question to “how is design thinking related to innovation?” I thought that was insightful, but my appreciation for his answer ended there. Coyle defined design thinking as “a process and a mindset used to solve complex problems in unique and innovative ways.” In other words, unique-ness and innovation are inherent attributes of design thinking. I see design thinking a bit differently.

Design thinking is designing from the user’s point of view.  Software, thoughtfully designed, will be easy for the user to employ. It will be intuitive, and it will accomplish the user’s purposed.  That hardly qualifies as innovative. But it is good design thinking.  The focus on simplicity will, in some measure of circumstances, yield an innovative approach. That is how certain processes are modified (design question–isn’t there an easier way to do x?) or modified (design question–isn’t there a way to automate x?).  But great design frequently comes from total redesign in a way that eliminates x–(design question–why is x necessary and what can do about eliminating the need for x?).

Solutions thinking, which combines design thinking and problem solving–focusing on eliminating the problem entirely or drastically shrinking its footprint. This is the “next big thing” that clients are now starting to demand. Those that are not demanding it now will soon do so.  The Solutions Design process–the “Next” in ElevateNext–is premised on the belief that innovation for the sake of innovation isn’t what law departments seek.  They seek innovation that is purpose-driven. So my answer to the question of how innovation is related to design thinking is that innovation is a byproduct of effective Solutions Design, which inherently involves Design Thinking.