From Design Thinking to Design Doing with Christian Bason

Design Thinking at work at the Dansk Design Centre

Is Design Thinking becoming more about thinking than design? Management by post-its?

As I’ve argued in previous blog posts, and in episode #8 of the Working Together Podcast, the cargo cult versions of design thinking (i.e. “post-it design”) tend to become polite, facilitated conversations around a table, but miss what the field of design itself has to offer.

How can we push for a more interventionist approach, instead of an analytical approach, to design thinking?

In episode #13, I talk with Christian Bason, CEO of the Danish Design Centre, and ex-director of the Danish cross-governmental innovation team, MindLab. We talk about how our changing world economy demands a new form of public and customer engagement… an approach to problem solving centred around co-creation and co-production… an approach that leans heavily on design practices to help shape solutions… literally. We also talk about prototypes so big that you can walk into them, minimum viable interventions, the six leadership engagements with design, and so much more!

Along with his work with the Danish Design Centre, Christian Bason is also the CEO of Design Society, a foundation which is the parent company of the Danish Design Center, INDEX: Design to Improve Life, Danish Fashion Institute and Copenhagen Fashion Week.

From 2007 to 2014, he was the Director of MindLab, the Danish cross-governmental innovation team. Prior to this he was a consultant and business manager with the international advisory group Ramboll, heading the organization and management practice. Christian is the author of multiple books on innovation and design in government, including Leading Public Design: Discovering Human-Centred Governance (2017), Design for Policy (2014) and Leading Public Sector Innovation: Co-creating for a Better Society (2010).


Some Big Ideas Exchanged: prototypes so big you can walk into them; from design thinking to design doing; minimum viable interventions; and so much more!

“Those two games, the one being how is the world economy changing, on the one hand, and… how is public governance changing to become more impactful… those two are really what we are working with and that is the context within which we are trying to make a difference.”

Massive shifts in the world economy towards automation, digitization, etc. on the one hand, and emerging innovations in public governance drive the Danish Design Centre’s work. The first big change creates a reactive approach, the other necessitates a proactive one, since our tendency will always be to develop solutions within conventional structures of governance. What if instead of designing solutions within a traditional framework of public engagement and governance, we designed solutions within a new framework, using the tools of design? (This is a theme that’s come up a few times on the podcast: here, here and here.)

“If we keep… increasing the expenditure on pharmaceuticals in the healthcare sector in Denmark, by 2050 we will be spending the entire national [healthcare] budget on pharmaceuticals, there will be nothing left for buildings, for staff, for hospital beds, nothing. It will all be spent on pharmaceuticals […] so we’re creating a handful of scenarios and co-designing them together with the [health] sector across major healthcare companies, policy makers, and two major hospitals. Then we are taking those abstract, future, wild future scenarios and building them into shipping containers… we are simply creating experiences where decision makers, healthcare companies, pharmaceuticals, medical device companies, startups, digital firms of any scale, can explore possible futures of health, and then they can engage with each other, engage with citizens, and begin to have conversations about future solutions, products, services, business models, new markets, new governance, whatever […] and that is for us, a prototype.”

Prototypes of future scenarios that you can walk into and experience–like a mini World’s Fair! This “walkable prototype” approach can help participants understand policy drivers and forces and market drivers and forces that impact the sector as a whole. They create a space for all the right people to “ideate” together, which helps break down silos between everyone and open-up the solution space.

“Nothing worth doing is easy.”

To illustrate a point about wading into a fraught and conflict-ridden problem space, I paraphrased a Theodore Roosevelt quote which actually goes like this:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

I love this idea of the minimum intervention–what you could maybe call a “minimum viable intervention”. Just enough of a taste of the design process to get potential partners and clients thinking: “hey, this could really help us collaborate and create something more impactful than our business-as-usual approach!”

“We’re trying to find the minimum intervention, the minimum offering that we can come with that creates a transformative experience for leaders [about] what design can do. What’s the minimum we can put out into the world in workshops, seminars, conferences, and one-on-one, where we really distill and provide an experience of what design might do, and a reflection around that. And from that touchpoint, we are working very hard to find ways to map potential transformation journeys that these organizations, and leaders within them could take.”

In terms of a working “minimum viable intervention”, I really liked what Christian had to say about the six leadership engagements with design–two for each theme: exploring, ideating, and prototyping.

Under the theme of exploring the problem space we challenge assumptions, and leverage empathy. Under the theme of ideating and generating alternative scenarios, we open ourselves up to different perspectives, and navigate this unknown space through research and analysis.

These first four are fairly comfortable terrain, and form the backbone of any good research and analysis effort. But we need to move past this comfort zone and we can do that by integrating design practices into our work.

The last theme–prototyping and enacting new practices–involves using design practices to help make the future tangible and concrete, and insisting on value creation as part of this process to ensure that the results achieved are practical to those we are designing solutions for.

Have a listen to here more!


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