7 ways design thinking is percolating into the enterprise application space

'Coding is not the only unicorn skill in demand; traditional markets begin to value design as a strategic lever.'

Think of design thinking, and the work of creative types dabbling in forms and colors come to mind. But today's design professionals are becoming a critical part of the application development process, and design thinking is just as essential to application success as functionality and connectivity.

Photo: Joe McKendrick

As John Maeda and co-authors with Design in Tech, put it in a recent report: "Design isn't just about beauty; it's about market relevance and meaningful results." Their latest report discusses the rise of "computational design," which essentially takes design thinking more full-mode into the digital world. "Computational designers remain in demand at technology companies of all sizes and maturity levels," they state, and "design tool companies and design community platforms occupy new positions of value for tech."

Here are ways design thinking is reshaping the enterprise application space:

Design thinking is now a critical piece of user experience (UX): Don't mistake today's emerging form of "design thinking" for simply making things attractive. "When people in the tech industry talk about 'design,' they often make the mistake of not differentiating between classical designers and computational designers," the report states. "The former kind of designer might craft a wooden chair for a home which is used by a few people; the latter kind of designer might craft an app for a smartphone which is used by hundreds of millions of people."

Designers are in high demand: Coding is not the only "unicorn" skill in demand, and "the fundamental profile of designers is beginning to shift as traditional markets begin to value design as a strategic lever," Maeda and his co-authors observe. There is growing demand for design thinking among enterprises, and both leading business and design schools are expanding their curricula to include computational design programs and courses. "According to LinkedIn, the highest echelon of the technology industry is vying for more design talent-Facebook, Google, and Amazon have collectively grown art and design headcount by 65% in the past year - with much headroom to hire more."

Everyone uses computers, requiring enhanced design thinking: Until recently, technology products were designed by tech professionals, for tech professionals, the report states. "The number of people using computers used to be very small. However today, due to smart phone proliferation,everyone is now using computers.To design for everyone, we need to now think and work more inclusively than ever before."

Still, there is a design education gap: There is a need for data, business and leadership skills beyond the classroom. "The top three skills needed by designers in practice are not available to them as basic coursework in education as a designer," the report states. These skills include understanding business and finance, using research and analytics to design, and organizational skills.

Design thinking has the attention of top executives: While there is no common approach to incorporating designers or design into the application flow, members of the C-suite definitely want to know what's going on. DiT reports on a study that found 46% of designers say that their highest ranked design leader reports to their CEO, while the second highest (at 31%) is the VP/head of product design.

Design (especially mobile) is less open these days: The large social media providers clearly own the design space, Maeda and his co-authors state. "Eight out of 10 smartphone apps are owned by Google or Facebook, and when mobile devices are used, there is 20% chance the person is engaging the Facebook app."

Design goes well beyond the user interface screen: For example, the report's authors observe, "chat-based interfaces are grounded in mental models that don't require a complex graphical representation and navigation system." While the on-screen design is often the major consideration in design thinking, "the one design trend with the most significance today for web content creators is an invisible one: 'Will my page get found?' Which means designing for the non-human viewer, too."