Colum Menzies Lowe, a workshop associate based in London, was recently in Istanbul for the Creative Enterprise Programme with the British Council. He was interviewed on TRT World, Turkey’s equivalent to BBC World Service with a global audience of 120 million, to discuss design thinking and entrepreneurship.
Design thinking as a term has been floating around for a few years now and has gained traction with non-design audiences as a new way to tackle difficult problems. In reality, design thinking isn’t new at all, it’s just another way to define and codify what design is, what designers do, and to explain the key features and benefits of taking a structured approach to problem solving.
Design thinking is being described by some as a new process, but we don’t really need a new process, or a revised funnel, spiral, diamond, or any other visual representation of a paint-by-numbers-guaranteed-to-succeed-one-size-fits-all way to tackle difficult problems. There is nothing wrong with modern design processes. What is wrong is how these processes are being implemented and the quality of inputs. For me, design thinking is a way of discussing quality: quality of engagement, empathy, invention, visualisation, testing and measurement. Without quality, no process in the world, no matter how clever or easy to follow, is worth a damn.
Of course, the purpose of good design is not just about profit or GDP: it can also be about social good, an area I have a personal interest in. I was once Head of Design at the NHS, have spent several years working in autism and dementia, and currently co-own a child safeguarding social enterprise. Design has the power, if correctly deployed, to tackle the social issues we all witness and experience, whether that be lifestyle-related illnesses, living longer with multiple health issues, tackling gang-related crime or homelessness. It concerns me that design thinking is being sold to the public sector as a new process, rather than a new focus on quality, on change, on improvement, on rigour.
“Everything on this planet that people have created has been designed ... through some sort of design process to imagine a solution to a problem and make it real,”Colum Menzies Lowe, Creative Enterprise Programme workshop associate.
The Creative Enterprise Programme introduces some design thinking concepts - customer personas, prototyping as examples - but the aim is to teach creative entrepreneurs commercialisation skills and help them establish and grow their businesses.
In isolation, the value of the creative industry subsectors don’t sound particularly impressive, but when measured together, creativity starts to really add up. The creative economy can represent a significant portion of a country’s GDP - 5% in the case of the UK, creating £84b in revenue, £27b of which is exports, and employing 3.1m people.
While Turkey does not currently measure the contribution of its creative economy in quite the same way the UK does, it would be a fair guess that it is also a significant contributor to Turkish GDP. So, encouraging it, supporting it, and above all respecting it as an industry seems to make perfect sense.
It is always a delight facilitating the Creative Enterprise Programme to learn about the participants creative business ideas, from tourist apps to sex museums and everything in between! It is equally delightful how many are for social good rather than personal profit - young entrepreneurs are not in it for the money but are trying to change the world for the better. One of my favourites from the workshop last month was Cats of Istanbul. Owned by Rana Babac, it aims to build bridges of empathy between people and stray animals through positive contact and creative projects. While not a cat fan myself (I’m allergic), its connectivity and sensitivity with Istanbul and its communities won me over. I wish her, and all the other Creative Enterprise Programme participants, every success in the world.