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Design Led Solutions: What is it? (Part 1)

Design Led Solutions: What is it? (Part 1)

By Dr Anneline Padayachee

Design led solutions (DL) is not another swanky marketing process. The concept of a DL approach has been around since the 1960s as a way to conceptualise techniques for engineers, architects or anyone who needed to solve problems creatively, as opposed to only analytical assessment (Arnold, 2016). By the 1980s, the human-centric element was added, combining both creative processes and psychological reasoning into what is commonly known as DL thinking in today’s world (Schön, 1983). The rise in the DL approach in the last decade is partially due to the Harvard Business Review (Koko, 2015) and Forbes (Turnali, 2016) explaining the process of DL beyond human behavioural scientists.

Design is a term traditionally associated with creatives, aesthetics, and artistic ventures, and hence the DL approach can be challenging for most analytical domains, scientists, and technically dominant industries to understand. However the DL approach goes beyond creativity, and rather is an underlying process that aims to create solutions for real problems, rather than create products and services that do not solve a problem, and hence are not wanted or valued.

The approach is a tool that allows organisations (and individuals) to be flexible and responsive, rather than defensive in rigidity. And this is of major benefit to the food industry.  Logic, analytical capabilities and technical strengths are the foundations of the scientific process. However logic does not work in tangent with changing societal trends, consumer behaviours and values. It is these (non-tangible) factors that are highly disruptive to organisations that are not able to respond appropriately. At best, the impact can be the short-term acceptance of products and services, at worst businesses could face a similar fate to Kodak, becoming obsolete. Kodak, the world’s leading photographic film-based company, became obsolete not because of a lack of quality or technical capabilities. Kodak became obsolete because of their inability to respond to changing photographic behaviours in a highly digitalised world.

Innovation requires organisations to respond to external changes and create value in real time. This requires the capacity to design solutions. The DL approach is based on a set of principles:

  1. Assessing the complexity of the issue
  2. Empathy with the user(s)
  3. Prototyping solutions
  4. Failing fast to change fast

This article is the first in a series of snippets breaking down the somewhat ambiguous concept if design-led solutions by exploring the fundamental principles into bite sized chunks that can help your business become more agile and responsive to changing societal dynamics. Allow yourself to fail fast, in order to succeed long-term.


Arnold, J. E. (2016). CREATIVE ENGINEERING Promoting Innovation by Thinking Differently (W. J. Clancey Ed.). Online: Stanford University.

Koko, J. (2015). Design Thinking Comes of Age. Retrieved from

Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic.

Turnali, K. (2016). Empathy, Design Thinking, And An Obsession With Customer-Centric Innovation. Retrieved from

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