Design Thinking to the Rescue

Thoughts from the recent Sarasota International Design Summit.

By Kim Cartlidge

Hosting a design summit solely for designers and creative types is so last year. The forward-thinking Ringling College of Art and Design chose instead last week to spread the word about how design thinking might deliver businesses and the region from the grips of the recession. The Sarasota International Design Summit on the campus kicked off with an invitation-only CEO roundtable led by international creativity consultant Sir Ken Robinson.

Rob Brady, CEO / Design Director of ROBRADY design.

Sir Ken Robinson, above, spoke at the Sarasota International Design Summit, and later signed copies of two of his books. Photos by Lauren Redifer.

Sarasota-Bradenton business attendees included Sun Hydraulics Corporation CEO Allen Carlson, Beall’s Inc. CEO Steve Knopik and ROBRADY CEO Rob Brady.

“The business environment is as challenging as it has ever been,” says Robinson, who has advised governments in Europe and Singapore on creating economies and education systems for today’s global age. “The key message was that this is not the time to give up on being innovative.”

Rob Brady leads ROBRADY design, a local firm that epitomizes both design innovation (having recently released a trendsetting folding bicycle) and the type of business Sarasota’s leadership wants to attract and retain in this region. I asked Brady how he defines design thinking.

“It’s a methodology we were taught in design school,” say Brady, who was educated as an industrial designer. “We analyze problems in a very visual way –in both two and three dimensions. What’s so approachable is that it’s so easy to pick up.”

For Brady, design thinking entails using light boards, graphics and problem statements. It requires questioning the question itself, meaning turning a critical eye on how a company is framing a problem. It also involves brainstorming without negativity or judgment, which can take the wind out of the imaginative process. “We don’t disqualify ideas immediately. Often that gem is two or three ideas away from you. If you throw away the crazy ideas, you throw away the bridges.”

ROBRADY lost 85 percent of its business in the downturn, but is on track for phenomenal growth this year with several new products. “Last year, we got clobbered by the recession, and if we did not reinvent ourselves, it would be an obituary. We survived by looking inside and applying design methodology to ourselves and going after new markets,” Brady says.

Brady adds, “Innovation without a process is reckless. Innovation with a proper methodology is a phenomenal competitive weapon in business.”

The word Ringling College President Larry Thompson wanted to share with the CEOs is that design thinking is not just for the creative fields: it’s a survival tool that can lead us out of this dismal economy.

Thompson plans to expand the CEO roundtable and opportunities for local entrepreneurs to apply design thinking to business problems. For more information, call his office at 359-7601.

Syndicated From: Sarasota Magazine