Why design thinking will be the new normal of business development in 2025

The term ‘design thinking’ will die a slow death by the year 2025. By then, design thinking will have become a new normal - a part of most organizations’ everyday talks, tasks and activities. The air we breathe. But why so?

Let’s look at the big picture. Particularly in the Western world, most of us already own everything we need – a house, a car and the latest iPhone. We don’t really need any more material belongings. Instead of owning more stuff, most of us are seeking the way to a more meaningful life: Better relationships, more time for loved ones, health and wellbeing, less stress, a fulfilling job or heightened self-awareness.

The markets that companies compete on are ultimately made up of the needs and wants of people. When what people seek is becoming increasingly intangible, the role of new services is crucial to help people get where they want to be. This is why the world is turning into services. Companies are adapting, but slowly. 

Beyond this, another major change in the last decade is that in order to succeed on a global scale, the services that companies produce must be top-notch. I mean really, really good. In the digital era, the best or cheapest alternative is often just one click away. This means that small local companies often face direct global competition, and must battle with the likes of Netflix or Facebook.

Over the last 20 years, the principles of design thinking have helped companies adapt to these changes and create concrete value through the design of new services that people like to use.

If I summarize how design thinking changes the way we work, it can be narrowed down to two things:

  • gaining deep understanding of peoples’ needs through empathy and
  • developing solutions by experimentation and prototyping

Yet, these two elements are completely new ways of working for most organizations. Many talk about empathy and experimential culture, but there is always a huge gap between talking and doing. And also a learning curve to get to a level where impact is achieved.

It’s important to understand that design thinking isn’t just a buzzword, but represents a much bigger change that is ongoing. Put simply, it’s about an extensive global shift in the way we work. In order to create necessary services, work life must adapt, and this change is already well underway. If you don’t believe me, flick through the increasing number of recruitment listings for service designers or familiarize yourself with the thoughts of companies such as Osuuspankki (In Finnish) and Kone.

While it may seem like that the buzz around design thinking can be even too much at times, I think the current design thinking hype might be a good thing after all. Because change is never easy, it’s even necessary that design thinking is being force fed to all of us – after all, it spreads the word, creates conversation and accelerates the change.

In 2025, design thinking as an “ism” will be relatively useless since the principles will have been integrated into organizations’ development and innovation processes. Some companies will do more in-house development, while some will rely on external help. Just like now. Yet the hype will be gone and energy can be directed towards actually changing peoples’ lives with services.

However, in 2025 we will need more people ready for this new way of development. People skilled in empathy that can uncover customer needs, people that can see the big picture yet extract the relevant details, people that can generate creative hypotheses from new solutions, and can design and measure experiments that impact customer and business value. And, naturally, do all this while at the same time leading change in organizations. These are the skills you need to embrace if you want to prepare for the future of work.

What will the buzzword of 2025 be? Since we don’t have to talk about how we work anymore, my guess is that we will be talking value-based design – how to bring moral and ethics to the core of development. Let’s wait and see.

Like to participate in the conversation? Comment on Twitter @jhirvonsalo@Palmu_Finland.

Johannes Hirvonsalo is an experienced service, business and organizational design professional who is especially interested in creating services and service organizations that produce behaviour change.