If you're a business or an NGO with an operation in Asia or Latin America, where do you go when you want some serious local design thinking? You might start by calling my colleague and friend Carlos Teixeira, a Brazilian-born assistant professor at the School of Design Strategies, in Parsons The New School for Design.
Carlos has a Ph.D in design from the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology, one of the leading intellectual centers for design thinking in the world. Carlos heads a research lab called the Design Knowledge Networks Lab and he's the only guy who's tracking the growing network of locally-owned innovation consultancies in emerging markets that do strategy using design thinking.
If I were visualizing Carlos' network, I would begin by putting Patrick Whitney, the extraordinary director of the Institute of Design, near the center. He created the first Ph.D in design program in the U.S. and Patrick's students are populating corporations and innovation consultancies around the globe.
Carlos knows many of them. They are direct founders and major players in Mexico's Insitum and Brazil's Gad'Innovation. Insitum's founder Luis Amal worked at the Doblin Group and E-Lab before setting up his own company in Mexico. "Our approach to design has been to position it as a key business ingredient, not selling design per se, but selling it under other names, such as: innovation consulting; market strategy; user understanding/market research; strategic planning; forecasting," says Amal.
Design thinking may have begun as a Western concept but a reverse flow of concepts is just a matter of time.
Next to Patrick I would put Carlos himself because he is speeding the transfer of design thinking expertise by building his own network called NODES. U.S.-based innovation firms rarely talk to one another, much less exchange knowledge. Of course, they're all competing in pretty much the same space. But I've often wondered what brilliance might emerge from a dinner table that included Tim, Sohrab, Dev, Harry, Davin and Doreen, the heads of IDEO, ZIBA, JUMP, Continuum, Smart and Frog.
While that's not going to happen here in the U.S., it is already happening in NODES. Carlos says that "NODES is a network of design experts connecting global design expertise with local design needs." His goal is to "disseminate global design best practice to local business leaders and design professionals."
So far, NODES connects Parsons to Idiom Design and Consulting, a key design thinking-based consultancy in India. Idiom founder Sonia Manchanda is a close friend of Carlos and recently helped launch SPREAD to spread the word of design thinking in her country. Here's what the Idiom Web site says about it:
"SPREAD was hence born as the design outreach program of Idiom. Since its induction three years ago SPREAD has successfully worked with various institutions and business houses conducting workshops, seminar programs and lectures to make design a weapon to transform and grow our economy and to better plan our lives and environment. SPREAD makes design thinking, tools and processes accessible to design and business students, practitioners and even school children."
Today, along the NODES network, one can see the thinking between the Parsons design knowledge network lab and Idiom's SPREAD project. As NODES expands to other consultancies and schools, Carlos expects increasing knowledge to flow South to South among consultancies in Asia, Latin America and Africa as well as between South to North.
Business is beginning to follow. European and U.S. corporations are increasingly using local innovation consultancies for their local business. And other emerging market countries are starting to hire consultancies schooled in design thinking. Idiom was recently hired by companies in Sri Lanka who have heard of its strategic design capabilities and Brazil-based Crama has new business in Angola for the same reason. Mexico-based Insitum has opened offices in the U.S., Brazil and Colombia, and works in Canada.
Design thinking may have begun as a Western concept exported overseas but a reverse flow of concepts and tools is just a matter of time. We've already begun to see new concepts such as "frugal innovation" flow from East to West and South to North. I expect a river of new ideas from CIM-B in the future.
Here is Carlos' list of the best design thinking consultancies from CIM-B.
CRAMA Design Estrategico (strategic design)
Idiom Design and Consulting