Design Thinking & Management Practice


The last decade has seen a rising interest in the intersections, parallels and potential transfers between management and design. For example, discussing "managing as designing" Boland et al. (2004) seek to draw lessons for organization leaders from actual design practice. Other research included studies in organization design (Dunbar and Starbuck 2006), aiming at increased practical relevance of organization science by defining design tools for creating and improving organizational forms. With a practical interest in the discipline of organization development (OD) and change management, other studies sought to both study and practice OD as a design activity, importing semantics and practice procedures from design to the field of organizing (Bate 2007). And searching for principles for an "organization research as design science" interest in design has been positioned as a new orientation for organization studies themselves (Jelinek, Romme and Boland 2008). Those academic ventures have been mirrored in management practice by efforts to integrate, for example, design thinking as a management tool, which can be contrasted to a long standing discourse on design thinking within design research and the design profession (Johansson-Sköldberg et al. 2013).

Overall, design thinking discourses at the intersection to management and organizing are multifaceted and draw on different research streams and practical traditions. A common denominator may be found in the interest in management practice and how organizational forms are created and recreated. With increasing proximity to the design profession there is frequent reference to human creativity and innovation, as well as an emphasis of human (or "user") centricity of a certain design (whatever its purpose, materiality and context). However, the overall discursive landscape of research and practice streams, as well as knowledge communities, is fragmented.

Against this background this research project explores two sets of research questions.

The first question concerns the translation of design approaches and methodologies into management practice and how those approaches relate to specific selected disciplines in organization design and management. Bringing design to management and organization implies the necessity of innovation and the acceptance of novelty in a well-established discourse. As a result, there is a need to translate "designerly" approaches into perspectives and organizational artifacts that relate to the "wicked problems" (Buchanan 1992) faced by managers. Contributing to the research stream which seeks to understand organization studies as design research (and thus as an activity generating knowledge on how organizational forms are and can be shaped and re-shaped), it seeks to analyse design thinking as a problem solving approach which carries implications for managers seeking practical knowledge.

The second research question concerns the legitimacy of design-oriented organizational innovations in the management sphere. Can the design thinking discourse in management be understood as a management fashion (Abrahamson 1996) and if so, what are implications of this fashion? What are institutional elements contributing to the acceptability or refusal of adopting "designerly" practices (and, at the same time, how are those practices represented and put into action)? Which functional or instrumental, cognitive, moral (Suchman 1995) or aesthetic elements are at play in the discourse and how are they picked up in positions invoking design approaches for management? And, finally, in relation to which perceived gaps and shortcomings of established management discourses does design thinking react?


Abrahamson, E. (1996). Management Fashion. The Academy of Management Review, 21(1), 254-285.

Bate, P. (2007). Bringing the Design Sciences to Organization Development and Change Management: Introduction to the Special Issue. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 43(1), 8-11.

Boland, R. J., Collopy, F., Lyytinen, K., & Yoo, Y. (2002). Managing as Designing : Lessons for Organization Leaders from the Design Practice of Frank O . Gehry. Design Issues, 24(1), 10-25.

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5-21.

Dunbar, R. L. M., & Starbuck, W. H. (2006). Learning to Design Learning Organizations from Designing Them. Organization Science, 17(2), 171-178.

Jelinek, M., Romme, a. G. L., & Boland, R. J. (2008). Introduction to the Special Issue: Organization Studies as a Science for Design: Creating Collaborative Artifacts and Research. Organization Studies, 29(3), 317-329.

Johansson-Sköldberg, U., Woodilla, J., & Çetinkaya, M. (2013). Design Thinking: Past, Present and Possible Futures. Creativity and Innovation Management, 22(2), 121-146.

Suchman, M. C. (1995). Managing Legitimacy: Strategic and Institutional Approaches. The Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 571-610.

Additional Informations

Commencement Date1 August 2014
Contributors Bach, Olaf (Project Worker)
Datestamp 16 Sep 2022 10:58
Completion Date 31 March 2017
Keywords Design thinking, management practice
Methods -
Funders other
Partners -
Principal -
Id 233613
Project Range HSG Internal
Reference Number -
Project Status ongoing
Subjects other research area
Topics -
Project Type fundamental research project
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