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How design thinking can change the way we work

Miranda Tay

It’s time to restructure old business educational models for a more creative and collaborative approach.
How design thinking can change the way we work

ulab interactivity. Image:

Design thinking can be used to transform the way we conduct businesses and meet challenges by offering innovative and creative thought processes.

At a recent talk on The Business of Design at Space Furniture in Richmond, Dr Jochen Schweitzer, Senior Lecturer at the Business School of the University of Technology in Sydney, and co-founder of u. lab, a multidisciplinary innovation hub, outlined how design can influence businesses’ creative, innovative and entrepreneurial approaches by eschewing old-style business education and adopting more creative methods.


A key part of this process is the need to engage with inspiring people and companies who approach things differently, dare to break with tradition and think creatively across business as a whole, he said.

Creative problem solving is one of the terms used to describe creative thinking, Schweitzer told the 100-plus audience comprising mainly design professionals and people associated with the design industries.

But the term Schweitzer prefers is ‘creative confidence, helping people to be more confident about the creativity that sits within all of us. And I think for many of us especially when you’ve been in business for too long, you’ve unlearned that creative part because you’re overly analytical.’

Thinking creatively: a U.lab video

Since 2011, when u.lab was first set up at Sydney’s UTS, Schweitzer’s research has focused on questions of strategic management and innovation, with a special interest in collaboration, corporate entrepreneurship and open innovation.

During his presentation, he drew heavily on his observations and experiences in the research program for his examples.

Conventional business education is taught in auditoriums via a structured lecturer-student approach, where past case studies are used for learning; a homogenous process.

But Schweitzer said: ‘I just think there’s something inherently wrong with that in itself, learning from the past. You can’t necessarily extrapolate from what’s happened in the past to what’s going to happen in the future.’

Of added concern was how students were approaching the issues at hand. They were very much able to do the analytics and collect data and calculate all sorts of return on investment, he said. But they were lacking a deeper understanding of what the problem really is.

‘The other thing was the solutions they came up with in the end were quite homogenous and I think that had to do with the fact that, as a student co-op, they were quite homogenous. They were all working with the same kind of brain, the same kind of software. So the diversity was missing in some way’ he said.

‘Finally, an overall method or approach was missing from them to come up with something that actually hadn’t been there before. That’s why I started getting interested in design because I think that design has a lot to offer.’


Jochen Schweitzer. Image:

Schweitzer outlined seven key elements that made design thinking a good business strategic model:

  • Design is optimistic: it always assumes that there’s a better solution out there that can be found than what we have at the moment. At the u.lab, Schweitzer cites an actual example with the City of Sydney, where the department and its students ‘had to work on an issue that was given to us by the City of Sydney that had to do with intersections of cycle lanes and pedestrian networks and retirement homes. So there was a few conflict zones in the heart of the city and we used this problem with our students to create solutions for that,’ he said.
  • Design thinking is human centred: It always is around people, what people want, need, how they behave – studying humans. And that’s really interesting and not very much known in the business world.
  • Design is collaborative: It brings people with different capabilities to the table. And it constantly seeks feedback from the public, large organisations, small start-up, students, academics for a real mix.
  • Design is experimental: It is always about trying something out and doing it rather than thinking or over-thinking it. ‘It’s about building prototypes. It’s about grabbing some materials and tweaking it, snapping it, saying, “Here’s how it looks. Do you like it?” You can do it with not just products, you can do it with statistics, and conceptual means as well,’ he said.
  • Design is playful: It allows people to play out scenarios and how they might evolve in the future. ‘If you’re developing a service, why not act it out?’ he said. ‘See how it feels and how it looks like.’
  • Design is action-oriented: ‘It forces you to program that code, do that prototype. And go out there and test it with users.’

Schweitzer said that, for him, ‘design thinking is a process. It follows a certain series of steps that are intuitive, you never really finish.’

But while the process itself is semi-structured, iterative, fast-paced and empathetic, ‘that is only half of the equation,’ Schweitzer explained. ‘The other half is the attitude (or mindset) that you bring to working the process. This is about being collaborative, being open, encouraging diversity and such things.’ In other words, doing, building, trying.


ulab industry partnership. Image:

How the work space is physically set up is an integral part of stimulating design thinking, said Schweitzer. Citing u.lab, he said, ‘You’ve seen how we’ve created different spaces for our students. But I think it’s very important to do that. Because creative confidence comes a lot more in certain kinds of spaces. So we use space itself as an iteration of how a space looked like. We had access to the public. We opened the doors, experimented with this by inviting the public  to our workshops.

‘We wanted spaces that were rather rough, like a studio environment, we could drop things, where things could go wrong.’

In essence, design thinking has to be framed in an environment ‘where you can fail, where failing’s ok,’ said Schweitzer.

‘Because failing is part of the process. Because whenever you fail, you learn something. Failing forward is something that we teach our students.

‘You need space to share things and ideas, so you can leave stuff there and come back to it a couple of days later and look at it again. My example is always the “box” room in a criminal investigation. Streams of connecting bits and dots and pieces and you look at it over and over again and you start seeing patterns, and that’s what you want people to do.’

About the author

Miranda Tay is Deputy Editor of