In this episode, we talk to Martin Cheetham, co-owner of Tenaka, about how design thinking has been incorporated into large organisations, as well as the definition and interpretation of design thinking.

Martin’s background is firmly rooted in graphic design – as a kid, he wanted to be a cartoonist when he grew up. His was a natural progression to the design thinking arena when he realised that a lot of the work being done was missing the human element of understanding who you are designing for.

We touch on how design education has changed over the years, and how this needs to change even more: we need to incorporate design thinking at the early stages to ensure that children are equipped for the future of work. We also explore the current view of design thinking at large in South Africa, where its value is not fully recognised and where it is often associated with the more traditional terms of design, such as visual design.

Martin opines on what it will take for management of large corporations to see the value of design thinking and placing the customers you are solving for front and centre, as well as why they might not yet be seeing the value.

We discuss how the employee experience is being customised – or not, in many cases – and the benefit for large organisations of investing time and money in understanding what their customers want and need.

In closing, Martin shares how vital it is to not have a predetermined solution in mind, but rather to solve the real problem the customer is experiencing: a deep understanding of your customer is the only way you will survive in the future.

If you are unfamiliar with design thinking, listen to episode 1, where we discuss the methods and mindsets of design thinking and clear up some of the terminology.

Welcome to Great Minds Design Think Alike. Where we investigate design thinking, the challenges, the successes and the problems it solves. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of design thinking, check out episode 1. Be sure to subscribe so you get the newest episode as it’s released. Great minds design think alike is hosted by Stuart McDougall, owner of Tenaka, a leading Design thinking consultancy in Johannesburg, South Africa and is proudly brought to you by Mac Media.

The conversation with Martin:

Today I’m chatting to Martin Cheetham He is a co-owner of Tenaka. He will touch on how design thinking has been incorporated into large organizations. And a little bit of what is the definition and interpretation of design. Enjoy the episode.

So Martin tell us a little bit about how you got in to design thinking.


M: Ok so that is quite a long and detailed story so I will try and put it a bit shorter. Look, I have always had a love and passion for design. I mean that word design I will get into now in terms of how it’s changed for me and globally as well as what that word means. But I have always loved design. When I was a kid I was into drawing and illustrating. I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up. I then studied art and graphic design. Became a graphic designer. So I have always had that kind of that, I still dabble in it even now. When I first started my first business was called Project Orange. I was a designer there and obviously I was dealing with clients and understood that kind of things. Then eventually when I joined Tenaka, I started on the design side there. Then moved to the client side of the business and accounts management etc. and then eventually became a director of the business. And then gradually kind of understood that the work that we were doing on the digital side, in terms of digital marketing and creating digital platforms and web applications etc. for clients. 

There was very much an element that was missing which was really truly understanding the people we are designing for. So buzz words like user interface had come up over the years but that’s only sort of one aspect of it. And one of our partners at Tenaka introduced this concept of design thinking or human centered design to us. And when he started showing it to us it just made total sense. This is something that we need to dig into and understand and start implementing in all the work that we do. So post that kind of introduction that was very much through the likes of IDO, and Frog and huge some of the big American companies that were using these methodology. I have kind of just dug deeper and deeper and done these courses online etc. the main element I think to any of this methodology is actually by doing, so to learn by doing. Most of my experience from it has actually come from utilizing it for not only my clients but utilizing it within the business as well. So using those same methodologies that we become an environment that practices what we preach. To even using elements of it at home with my family. You know if we are trying to solve something. It can be as simple as how we are going to go on a holiday. We have been using those techniques. And it’s something I wanna instill in my kids as early as possible as well. 

So I realize that it’s becoming a staple in education now. Where people are starting to understand, that hold on these techniques and methodologies can be taught at a really young age and can really assist kids in being able to solve problems. So already I know there is a lot of colleges and institutes that are starting to teach it. where I studied design many years ago at Design Centre in Greenside, they now offer a full design thinking course or qualification etc. It’s amazing, had that been available to me at that time that would have been something that I would have really enjoyed pursuing. So yeah that’s kind of how I got introduced to it and where it all started for me. And I think one of the other elements that I really love about it is you can never know all of it. It’s just an ongoing education and there is always techniques and methods that you can try and use to solve problems. I mean every problem is different and every challenge that you face or scenario that you can put into is very different so there is always new ways or methods of solving those things.


S: So there was something interesting that you were saying which is the education and where you came from. The design was graphic design related and design school and art related. And then finding yourself now in Design thinking where design is not necessarily linked to graphic design.


M: So that’s why I mentioned that earlier. I’m glad you brought that back up because that’s one of the biggest challenges that we face right now, is the word design is associated with aesthetics. So it’s graphic design and visual design. And even web design and digital design and stuff like that. Whereas the true definition is about function. How the thing works, not just how it looks. And I think that’s something that Apple has excelled in over the years. Is that functional mixed with aesthetics. So most of the time you mention design thinking people are automatically assuming that you are talking about visual design or graphic design or any of those design associated things. So just like user experience, user interface design and stuff like that have now become common terms. I would like to say most people understand but I actually think there is kind of a lot of misinterpretation of what those terms actually mean. And the same thing with design thinking. You know like, I’m often engaging with clients and organizations where agile has become the way to work. 

Whether it’s predominantly in a development space and that obviously where it originated, it was through software development and stuff like that. But I think that although agile is now becoming kind of the staple way in which environments work and design sprints and things like that. It took a long time for that to become the way that a lot of large corporates or organizations work. I think design thinking is following that kind of path. I think we are behind in terms of South Africa as a client and as a sort of an environment for creative thinking and for problem solving and for just businesses in general. You know you look at ecommerce and stuff like that. How far we are behind a lot with the rest of the world. And I’m definitely getting that kind of same feeling with design thinking we are so far behind.

I look at service design and design thinking organizations and groups even on LinkedIn and various platforms that are huge overseas. They have got a massive following. The guys are incorporating it into business there. Engineering that is built into the agile process. Whether that from the design side or from the development side whatever that process is. It’s being incorporated into that. Whereas here we are still stuck in this kind of design thinking ok what’s that, ok graphic design, it doesn’t, it looks good it’s fine. It’s almost like this kind of nice to have. Like researching with customers. Researching with the people it’s serving. It’s almost become like, when I say become, it’s still a kind of nice to have and it’s something that’s often fobbed off or left a chance where that’s where it’s all should be started and ending. We should be constantly understanding who we are creating something for and how it’s affecting them. And I don’t think it will be that long before it’s kind of institutionalized and incorporated into everything that the guys are doing from a business perspective but it’s still a way off.


S: What do you think the obstacles are for them to be adopting this? The mindsets, the principles


M: I mean the biggest obstacles or the obstacles that coming the most often is the leadership in these organizations. So those executive teams. Because they are maybe, have come from an environment where these guys are the leaders in their fields or leaders in their industries. These guys are often saying how do you think we got here? We did it this way and we have done it this way for as long as 30-40 or 50 years and why should we change? And what they don’t realize is that the market is changing. The audience is changing. So if they don’t adapt and start understanding their users or customers or I hate using that word, their stakeholders. But their various stakeholders and really starting to engage with them and creating experiences that are meaningful to them then they are gonna die cause those guys are losing market share. A lot of these really big organizations are slowly losing market share and they are gonna lose it to the guys that are utilizing these methodologies. So we deal with a lot of chief technical officers, chief digital officers, chief information officers. A lot of these guys are very clued up in terms of these methodologies and they really understand the importance of engaging with the people that they are serving. But they are often reaching this barrier that executive level where they cant get by, they cant get budgets allocated to this kind of work. 


S: So do you believe that maybe there is a perception that the return on investment from something that’s gone through this design thinking process is not there yet or how do you feel these executives will start to buy into this process and understand the process has benefits that they don’t realize at this point in time?


M: It’s interesting because this kind of comes up often in discussion where there are a lot of design thinking sort of forums and groups that I’m involved with and it’s often coming up that a lot of the guy feel, I think I agree with this is that those guys are only gonna try and really understand the benefits of using design thinking when they feel it rather than just hearing about what it can do etc. When they actually experience it and understand ok hold on, there has been a major shift in our business and our environment whatever it is because of this. I think that’s when suddenly the penny is gonna drop and the guys are gonna suddenly start saying ok hold on this is something we need to maybe investigate or start instituting into our organization and I think a lot of the time these guys are talking about the benefits and trying to explain it and educating them on it. Do those guys actually feel the effect of it? It’s gonna be a slow conversion.


S: In terms of South Africa, I mean where are you seeing that design thinking is actually having the kind of impact that these guys can feel, see, or investigate or understand?


M: Look from experience so far, it’s predominantly in the financial services industry. A lot of these guys have managed to actually start building these competencies internally. I don’t know what the reason is for it being instituted there. I don’t know. I don’t know how the guys have managed to convince those upper levels of the business that this is the right way to go. But so far the experience that i have had its definitely in the financial services and there seems to be this drive for innovation. It’s specifically happening in that sector. The guys have realized hold on we need to try everything here in order to innovate. I don’t know what that driver or that sort of motivation has been. But that’s definitely kind of the sector there seems to be this race to be the most innovative. The guys that can set themselves apart from the other guys by innovations  and merging technology with sort of day to day life etc. It seems to be worth it.


S: What sort of pace is this innovation being delivered at in that specific sector knowing they are using design thinking as a process?


M: That’s my one concern, I think the primary sort of objective that a lot of the guys are having within those organizations is pace and speed. How quickly can we do it? How quickly can we turn it around and getting these design sprints shorter and shorter? And my worry is they are leaving stuff on the table. They are not, they may be utilizing principles of design thinking and kind of leaving some of that stuff on the floor. I think often what happening is for the sake of speed they are not really digging deep enough into the insights they are uncovering from their audience or they are researching or testing with. And I think unfortunately with a lot of the large organizations like that things are kind of ignored or swayed in certain directions due to whatever reasons. It could be politics within the organization, it could be the amount of budget or funds that have been utilized to get to this point. Egos involved, there could be multiple reasons behind why certain insights or certain research is ignored or kind of closed over, or maybe twisted in a little bit of a fashion to kind of get things off the ground or get things moving on board. And my concern is that guys are saying cool we are utilizing these methodologies and we are ending up at a result where it hasn’t connected with their audience or they haven’t responded in a way we thought we did. And if you actually backtrack and go through that entire process you might find kinds of corners where cut here and there or things were closed over for the sake of expediency trying to get things out. And my worry is that over time you might find that the methodology starts getting a bad name and a bad rep. Because the guys say we tried that it didn’t really work. Whereas I think often the case is that they could have dug deeper. 


S: Truly implemented it, truly experienced it and used it correctly.


M: So you might find this tight starts turning where the guys are instead of adopting it and doing it properly and utilizing these methodologies they kind of say ” argh you know what we tried that it didn’t work let’s find something else. Let’s go back to previous ways of doing things”. So that is a big risk that I think design thinking as a methodology could take or experience over the next couple of years. I think the guys who do it properly and do it well. And again it’s something else, because the process is so messy. I think a lot of organizations struggle with that. It’s not this Y to Z linear process, ok this is what you do, this is what you are gonna get out. Most of the time you go into that experience you don’t know what’s gonna come out of it. And the guys who are able to kind of take that on board and understand that and pivot and adjust depending on what’s happening and responding to the environment or to research into the insights and even when you start getting far down the line in terms of your third or fourth iteration of something and you are getting closer to a proper pilot. If you are able to still take that advice or that feedback on board and change it and shift it then awesome you are gonna come out with the right thing. That why I think a lot of the start-ups and those small organizations globally do so well because they are able to kind of just take it on board. That shift I’m very interested with what’s gonna be happening now with some of the institutions like bank zero, discovery bank, stuff like that. They don’t have all these legacy systems and red tape, and processes. Although there is a lot of disadvantage for them because they gotta start from the ground up and they don’t have any of that. There is a massive advantage that they don’t have to depend on legacy technology stakes. Whatever other stuff red tapes comes with those organizations. And they can adjust and pivot and I would imagine those guys utilizing these techniques to start those businesses and really understand what’s gonna make us tick. What are we gonna respond to? I’m so tired of these large organizations. I keep saying these large organizations cause I don’t wanna kind of throw anybody under the bus. But these value adds and these things that I keep getting offered and given just don’t work.


S: How much money is wasted in that area of items that don’t speak to your needs or your wants and it just requires them to go out there and actually connect with their audience and their users and test it. 


M: I mean that’s me as a 40 year old saying guys customize stuff to me. Give me stuff that I want. I don’t need extra coffees wherever it’s not stuff that I need. Cut my rates or cut my monthly fees or something like that. That’s just me specifically. I’m talking like I said as a 40 year old, imagine what these 20 year olds are wanting. And those guys are wanting like bespoke experiences. They wanting stuff that is absolutely customized, their desires and their dreams and where they are going. So the more companies can start doing that, really understanding of what makes you tick. What’s gonna be really relevant to you and what’s gonna change your behavior or drive your loyalty to a brand. That’s the thing, these loyalty programs most of them are terrible. So they really got to start understanding their consumers. And then obviously where that extends to you now as an employee and not just as a consumer or a customer. How are you customizing that experience for me as an employee within your organization? And understanding who I am as an individual, what my needs are, What my dreams are. You know the more millennials that we research with in various projects for clients the more we understand that they have another layer of expectations. Way above mine even. I have got sort of a base of expectations in terms of what a company can offer me and do for me and assist me. 

And that’s from an employee and a customer experience perspective. But they are on another level. Especially from a digital perspective. Their expectations in terms of digital is way higher than stuff that I would consider nice to have. Those are like base. Give me that or I’m out of here. And then build on top of that and how you are going to differentiate and offer me something bespoke to me. I often say to guys why I think a gaming platform or a thing like Minecraft well because they have created an environment that is completely up to you as the user. I have never played it but I understand the concept. There are no limits, you can go in there and create whatever you want there no restrictions do whatever you like. And that’s what the younger generation guys are looking for. Don’t restrict  me, don’t tell me what I need to do. Don’t give me a thing that I got to fit into. And that’s when I think it’s extending to the loyalty programs and all the rest of it like don’t tell me what I should do in order to get that and that. Understand my environment and what I’m looking for and create something like that, that  I’m not restricted or not told to do X,Y,Z in order to get that or if you do that you will be rewarded in this way. Create something unique for me, I think that’s where these guys need to.


S: So then from a design thinking perspective just give me a little bit of context in terms of that as a process then taps in understanding you as an individual and towards those needs and wants that you have.


M: I think that’s where the big differentiator happened, you know you have always had lots of segmentation and audience and consumer segmentation and you have always had. Big data and a whole bunch of quantitative information about people and that’s when it kind of fails dismally. It’s an important element to understanding people in general but it’s one element, it’s one side of the coin. And the other side is being able to speak to people and dig deep and really uncover what their social and emotional needs are. Besides their functionality the big data stuff is great right cool. To understand what I need to do to get from A to B that’s fine you can get that. But understanding why I need to get from A to B and those kinds of deeper needs that where design thinking and incentive design really starts to shine. And then understanding that’s not the end of it. Once you have uncovered those kinds of needs and you understand stuff at a much deeper level and connecting with people’s purpose etc. it’s then kind of checking back on them making sure. Ok whatever we are creating for you doesn’t speak to those. Or have we made a few more assumptions  between us understanding that whatever we are putting in front of you now. Ok cool we are willing to adjust and change stuff. And then going back and testing that again. And iterating it as many times as needed to really end up with something that connects with people on a level that no other brand or product or service could because its so steeped in this like deeper layer of understanding who they are what their challenges are and you know i think that kind of social and emotional stuff is not easy to uncover. That’s why it’s very important to understand how to research. How to get that stuff out of people. That it’s not biased or swayed in a certain direction. You know I think a lot of research that I hear is happening is conducted with you trying to talk to your customer, you end up talking to new staff or graduates.


S: The pool of people that they are drawing from are not the right pools of people.


M: 100%  because suddenly I’m in an environment where I’m just saying that sounds amazing. But if I was actually stepping out of that environment and just put my consumer hat on, I will give very different feedback. Suddenly now something is gonna affect me. And I’m not trying to please somebody else or that’s happening often hey. Guys are not researching with the right people. Their actual market.


S: And if you get down to those social needs that you were talking about earlier. That uniqueness for that product or service is actually gonna come out. And so if you are solving for those specific problems, then your engagement with your audience is gonna be very different to other competitors in the industry


M: And now that’s the other side of it is that suddenly you’re gonna have to throw out all these original assumptions and ideas that you had because one of the key things is actually interesting. I had a discussion with somebody the other day where they were say yeah cool we wanna use design thinking but we already have a proposed solution in mind. And she was saying I understand that it’s not really a pure form of design thinking. Because the purest form in that is to go there with no assumptions with what that product is. Or have assumptions but be able to completely throw that out. And say hold on the challenge we thought we were trying to solve or the product we were trying to serve or the service or the process we were trying to install is not gonna answer what we thought is gonna answer and we uncover a new challenge, a new problem and then start solving for that. That I think is actually the key differentiator. Just because most of the time what is happening is there already an assumed solution to whatever that thing is. And then the guys start swaying it. 

They are like ok cool but this is a solution? Don’t you think, ok hold on cause this may be the right solution. So there is always like a bias. That’s why I said earlier it can come down to so many different things. It could have been a shit load of time and effort and money that’s been pumped into whatever the solution is. Make it fit research and all that stuff doesn’t really matter. So the guys who are able to throw the stuff away. In fact there is a great quote I can’t remember, I think it was actually Jen Sutherland who wrote this. And I think it was in one of her presentations at some point. Where she said “fall in love with the problem not the solution”. And I think that such a key thing it’s always stuck with me is that fall in love with understanding what the actual problem is not the solution. The solution will come, we will get there. But rather than saying we have got this awesome product, we have got this app, we have got this thing. It’s amazing. Let’s find people who are gonna love it. You gotta start the other way round and say what is the problem that these guys are having?

 What is the benefit that these guys are trying to achieve or trying to see? And that’s what we’re gonna try and solve and create something for. You know like you think about a lot of, we were chatting about this the other day. When you look at a lot of the really successful ideas that have come up over the years has started with somebody saying hold on, I actually need this. So I need this thing and it doesn’t exist who is gonna make it for me. Someone will go and do that . I think I mentioned to you that story about Marshall and Marshal M amplifications, one of the biggest brands in terms of guitars and music in general. That started with a guy working in a music shop. As far as I remember I think it was Jim Hendrix that came into that store and said listen can you make this thing for me? And he said ok I think so. He went and made it and it started with a desire. A thing that somebody needed and wanted. As opposed to him going and building this amplification and saying well let’s go and find people who need this thing. And hoping that they either do or they don’t. It’s really trying to cover that need and that desire. That is why I say a lot of the millennials and generation of the guys that are coming up is that we really need to start speaking to them and understanding them. That’s why I said a lot of those large dinosaur organizations they are gonna die if they don’t evolve. If they don’t start doing this. Design thinking is the perfect methodology for them to start doing that. As long as they do it properly


S: Ok well Martin thanks for your time. I appreciate it.


M: Thank you, thanks for the whiskey.


S: Yeah good luck with taking design thinking forward with the large organizations.


M: Thank you. 


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