Norman's News: Design Thinking for a new Northern Ireland economy

Added Tuesday, April 4 2017

If the last few years have taught us anything it is that the pace of change is ever increasing and highly disruptive. I have talked before in this column about the speed of technology development which has no historical precedent. This is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum said ‘The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century.’

The silicon chip and the computers it enables are both the tools of change and the metaphor. As such it is easy to miss that every industry in every country is being disrupted and there is no going back!

For businesses to survive and take advantage of the opportunities in today’s world, they need to have innovation at the heart of what they do, with an empathy and understanding of their customers.

At Catalyst Inc we have been introduced to “Design Thinking” by a group of pioneers that took the opportunity to learn the art from its source. They have helped us improve our processes for how we create the best experiences for those that engage with us.

Design Thinking supports and encourages collaborative creativity to solve problems in a holistically and user-centered way – the focal point is people which is why it is often referred to as ‘human-centred’ design.

Although the concept originated at the Royal College of Art in the 1970’s, Stanford University has developed the internationally renowned ‘’. The original uses were in product driven companies but the process has much broader applications.

Using design thinking is straightforward and enhanced by the use of an experienced designer as part of the team. We are using it in nearly every aspect of Catalyst Inc’s interactions, new research centres focussed on industry from the outset, programmes that put the innovator entrepreneur first but the best trial was in St George’s Market.

There we tested the thinking with willing teachers, anxious to learn more about the modern workplace, at this year’s “Night of Ambition”. Some fifty teachers were put through an intense practical workshop on the topic, led by Peter Worth. Peter is the project lead for the School Retool professional development fellowship at Stanford, and helps school leaders apply a “hacking” mindset and a “design thinking-based framework” to transform their school culture towards deeper learning for all students.

The pupils attending “Night of Ambition” also got involved with local creative technology studio Big Motive who introduced them to Design Thinking for product development.

Pupils and teachers alike were left demanding more.

Northern Ireland has a strong creative sector, practicing user-centred designers and a vibrant Knowledge Economy start-up scene.

Using this creativity, energy and innovation, we believe design thinking has the potential to accelerate the commercial success and scaling up of companies operating in the knowledge economy.

This has been recognised by our board who have given us direction that “Catalyst Inc should perform a very valuable role in enabling the use of design thinking by these companies, but also in creating access points to design thinking for PhD students and other prospective entrepreneurs.”

Watch this space!