Design thinking for innovation

I have always been skeptical about using the word innovation, it seems like one of those word that gets used too often, however, it is easier to understand innovation than design.

Lets looks at some words from Wikipedia.

Design;  ‘Design is used both as a noun and a verb. The term is often tied to the various applied arts and engineering (See design disciplines below). As a verb, “to design” refers to the process of originating and developing a plan for a product, structure, system, or component with intention[1]. As a noun, “a design” is used for either the final (solution) plan (e.g. proposal, drawing, model, description) or the result of implementing that plan in the form of the final product of a design process[2]. This classification aside, in its broadest sense no other limitations exist and the final product can be anything from socks and jewellery to graphical user interfaces and charts. Even virtual concepts such as corporate identity and cultural traditions such as celebration of certain holidays[3] are sometimes designed. More recently, processes (in general) have also been treated as products of design, giving new meaning to the term “process design”.’

Which is pretty confusing, then there is design thinking; ‘Design thinking is a process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result.[1] Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a creative process based around the “building up” of ideas. There are no judgments in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation. Outside the box thinking is encouraged in this process since this can often lead to creative solutions.’

And so we end with innovation; ‘The term innovation means a new way of doing something. It may refer to incremental, radical, and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations….
The goal of innovation is positive change, to make someone or something better.

So, what is really needed when faced with challenges in Africa, be it education, health, or water is design thinking for innovation, which in plain English means using creative ways to find new solutions which result in positive change.

Posted by email from Design in Africa (posterous)

13 Responses to “Design thinking for innovation”

  1. Vusi Moloi Says:

    Interesting website. It’s refreshing to find someone who is intensely engaged in the adage of “necessity is the mother of invention” with respect to the African continent.

    In my writings like Design Theory of Letanta I analytically pursue the indigenous concepts of technological innovation in an African village. One of the causes of Africa’s crisis problems is that many of her leaders where educated in the colonial schools of thought which sought to suppress grassroots innovation (by forcing African natives to abandon the intellectual achievements of their foremothers and forefathers) in order to disinherit and disempower the African natives for purposes of making them into perpetual consumers of foreign goods, services and ideas. Africa needs a paradigm shift going forward in order to become an architect of her own destiny.

    Keep up the great work.

  2. Anthony Says:

    The problems in African must and should be addressed by Africans with hopefully a little help from “the friends of Africa”-read developed nations.We do agree that there is alot that need to be done for African nations to meet the threshold standards of our buddies in the west.But this cannot be achieved with the same kind of mentality that both the developed and developing nations hold.Africa must shun its “donation mentality” but rather seek ways that it can empower itself to utilize the available resources to stimulate economic and social growth.The developed nation can erase its “big brother”mentality where they feel there have a right and mandated to meddle at our own business at their wish.

    Africa can borrow alot from the United State of America;They were once colonized and had a bloody civil war(both common occurrences in Africa) inspite of all this they refused to be held down by their present circumstance and they are now the super power of the world.


    • Anthony Stanley Says:

      I totally agree that Africa needs to stand up for itself. There’s so much talk about “sovereignty” as I understand it right now that I believe it misses the mark of “unification”. Call be a skeptic if you want but from what I’ve seen right here in America and in other countries if there is no unified Africa other countries will come in an continue to exploit the riches and leave the African people with the little that’s left. Every gap, every nook and granny that left open by the lack of unification will be exploited.

    • Assata Says:

      I agree that it should be Africa for the Africans. That’s indigenous Africans. The people of Africa have to understand their place in history and the resources they have collectively. Africa shouldn’t have to go to the rest of the world for assistance when it has such abundant resources. As a continent it does not have a product consumed by other people in other countries. Japan, an island, has automobiles and electronics. Not one country in Africa mass produces this way.

    • Boltair Says:

      I agree as well. Africa can’t look at everything that is given to them as a constant means of support. It’s partially the givers fault too. It is all relevant to the market mechanisms. You simply don’t, and rarely ever will, appreciate things that are just given to you.
      Perhaps if we forced an exchange. Nothing serious or taxing. Hell, just tell them that we want 50kg of dirt for every million we spend for them or something ridiculous. Make them WORK for it somehow. Then they will begin to rely less on what is given and start helping themselves. Perhaps then, also, a small town that rarely gets aid will be able to step up for themselves and show initiative. Show that they are willing to work for the sake of progress. Wild idea, I suppose. But isn’t that what this is all about?

  3. Zack Says:

    I know what makes people a success is not the amount of money in your pocket bout what kind of reputation you have as a business owner. If you show a general concern for your customers and they keep buying your product that is success which creates the money in your pocket.. just remember, if you are in business to make money your in the wrong business. you are in the people business.

  4. Leonard Says:

    I am living in my own fantasy worlg called the “world of advanced technology”. What do i mean? Here in Africa we tend to tell our selves that we are developing technologically, but i really don’t see it.
    Can you believe most areas are still using intergrated circuits, but i tell my that am the only person or one of the few people using large scale and very large scale intergrated circiuts. I like following up with the ADVANCING TECHNOLOGY of the U.S.A because its really interesting for it calls for a lot of innovations and creates many ideas in my mind, but i have to say, i dont have the resources to carry out my ideas; it means i have to for scientists in the U.S to impliment them and after a period of about 7 years, i will get o use the same technology i had in mind!

    African should increase their diversity on the level technology they have.

    By the way a factor that has influenced this negativelly is the GENDER aspect. Discuss??

  5. gabriel Says:

    In africa there are many resounces availible to these people if that are willing to work with one another. A bike that belongs to one should belong to a few. If they want to rise out of this poverty it is essentail to work as a team and contribute equally. Inovation would then occure on a much lagers scale, for example if they decide to invest in solar panes for energy. Or become an primarily agricultural community and save the dollar a day by living off of there own resources.(SUNDRIED TOMATOS, RAISENS, SPECIAL SUNTAN LOTION)

  6. Jay Spence Says:

    Design thinking can also be seen as a “think-tank” approach. Join our meeting program and make a difference. We will use google group to create project were anyone can assist in the groth of the project. We ask for an email explaining changes made or terms you would like represented to help evovle the project. Pitch in today at

    Sign up as a volunteer!

  7. Joshua Ibanda Says:

    When destiny meets ordination there will be celebration in Africa. It’s mucha important to master where we from, where we are and where we want to be. Africa is implimenting lots of string tied donor funded projects that have been office built. There are couple of realities for Africa and this meets the order of priority wil differ, Its much practicle for Africa to accept its positon but rather have the will never to settle for it. This will spring innovation of course empowered by revised government policies that stimulate trade. Africa is a great resource but the problem is that eht youth are more vulnerable than empowered, economically, socially, phycologically and constitutionally. This leaves them non productive and a liability to thier countries. Engage youths by wmpowering them positively Africa will be better.

  8. Marcia Abernathy Says:

    I guess my major pet peeve with people talking about the continent of Africa is the fact that they forget it is a continent and not a country. There are many different countries as well as cultures on the continent of Africa. When the continent was divided up by Europeans to colonize and exploit, those Europeans tried to completely destroy the indigenous peoples’ way of life and substitute their educational system and religion onto the people. A slave has to be made, people are not born to be slaves. First, you change a person’s name, their diet and their belief system. You destroy the elders who hold the old knowledge and raise up the children in what you want them to believe. (Look up Willie Lynch) You set the people against each other (divide and conquer) and make them dispute their own self worth.

    Now, I said all this to say, sometimes the old ways just need to be brought back. How is it in a land that when you drop a seed, a seedling will come out of the ground in a few days, how is it that people are starving? Liberia alone could feed all of Africa…and feeding the people is the first step toward their liberation. People do not learn well on an empty stomach.

    The paradigm shift spoken of by Vusui Moloi, is essential. But paradigm shifts start with a new paradigm, an innovation from what is the current status quo.

    I, too, like the idea of Africa for Africans. The continent is sitting on the last great resources of the planet. Their fight is not only with their colonized mindset but the greed of the other countries wanting access to the resources. This is why the continent stays in such upheaval. People and countries are easier to exploit when they are fighting amongst themselves. Innovations are spoken of, while using African resources including the solar power farms that some companies want to install in the Sahara. But the energy that will be acquired is not being considered for the Africans. The farms are to create energy for use in Europe. Major design thinking will have to include how to keep their interest for themselves, which will have to involve process design at the most elemental levels. People will need an education that teaches them something besides how to be good consumers and conformers.

    Many singular people have solved these problems for themselves but have yet to disseminate the information to others. The first innovation may have to be a way to get technology to everyone, even in the bush, cheaply and effectively. Not an easy matter. But throwaway cell phones are all over the continent and could be utilized for good as well. We send coursework on cell phones here, why not use the cell phones for education on the continent?

  9. kyran roe Says:

    I think that a thinking plan for Africa is a great idea give them lots of new homes and set them free

  10. d4d spring 2009 | d4d / design for development Says:

    […] READINGDesign thinking for innovationTim Brown – IDEO: Design ThinkingMaria Rogal: 12 thoughts on working with communitiesDesign for […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: