Kuni Saso (MDM 2013) is founder of the Tokyo-based strategic design firm Biotope, Inc. His book, The Non-Designer’s Guide to Design Thinking, published in 2015, became the #2 best selling business book on Amazon’s Japan site. The book highlights content from courses Kuni took at the Institute of Design, underscored by what he has learned as a marketer turned designer.
We spoke with him on the occasion of the release of the English language translation of his book. In connection with its release, you can download the e-book version for free between April 20-24, 2017.
What did you do before ID?
Prior to entering the MDM program, I had worked as a brand marketing professional. I had spent five years with P&G and four years with Sony. When I decided to change my career path to design, I had no inclination of the magnitude of transformation I would experience at ID. The world of design and business seemed so different. Given my professional background, I never imagined that one day I would establish my design firm, Biotope, Inc.
What was the inspiration for The Non-Designer’s Guide to Design Thinking?
ID changed not just my career, but my life. Being experienced in both the business and creative world, I realized the differences in mindset and wanted to bridge them. In particular, the differences between business and design languages. The book tries to make understandable to non designers the processes of a creative worker. Designers need to be able to explain problem framing, research, analysis, synthesis and prototyping or the importance of visual stimuli before ideation. Such processes and tools demonstrate a designer’s way of thinking. Making design understandable is required in order to get a business person to buy into a project.
The topic of the first chapter of your book is hybrid thinking—what is your definition of hybrid thinking and how does it integrate into the design process?
Business people tend to be good at logical thinking and executing an agreed upon concept. Where they may struggle is in the creation of new concepts.
The design process combines divergent and convergent thinking in the service of knowledge creation. Designers spend a lot of time and effort to come to a new concept using methodology that sparks imagination and intuition, whereas business people focus their efforts on communicating the output using the language of logic.
The design thinking process helps drive divergent thinking by using visualization and creating innovative leaps in new combinations. Most of business language lacks knowledge of the creation process. Introducing design thinking into business process can lead to hybrid thinking which in turn helps fuel innovation.
You've worked with multiple large organizations. What is your most useful strategy for integrating a culture of design into a team or organization unfamiliar with the design process?
After I graduated from ID, I worked for Sony, reporting to CEO, Kazuo Hirao, to design the Sony Seed Acceleration Program, the company’s corporate innovation eco-system. The program was a response to Sony’s inability to take innovative ideas into market. It sought to increase new business ideas in the company, accelerate seed ideas into prototypes, and create new kinds of ways to evaluate new business ideas.
We proposed an open innovation system based on a new business incubation process that could be applied to all Sony’s companies. . We prepared a company-wide business contest, 3-6 months of seed acceleration program, and a different HR IP management system to allow agility and the education process to elevate the maturity of ideas. We also utilized crowd funding to measure the potential of new concepts and to highlight early and small successes. We integrated human centered design and lean start-up processes into a business contest and the seed acceleration program. In the end, the program became a standard of new business development for Sony as well as a model for other organizations.
The design process works when we create new value, and this sometimes creates tension with current business processes. Based on my experience, when we start to create the place to incubate totally new concepts, after the small success, we can seed the process across the entire business.
You say that design thinking could influence your own personal well-being. How has it impacted your day-today life?
After I learned design thinking, I start to understand that all the moments I live can be food for creation. I also learned that if I prototyped my ideas, I would be far more likely to realize them. We are living in the era of ambiguity, but I am confident that I can solve any problem creatively using the power of design. I think design thinking is a great survival tool for all people who live in the world where no one can forecast the future.