Design Thinking – Human Centred Food Production

Design thinking is not a term normally applied to SMEs, and especially not to food producers. However, some of the worlds’ most innovative products have resulted from design thinking. Any current Apple product? Jonathan Ive is the king of design thinking. So what is it?
Design Thinking is human centred innovation. It is powered by a thorough understanding of what people want and need in their lives and what they like and dislike about products. The father of Design Thinking is Roberto Verganti, a professor of Innovation Management in Milan who carried out a very influential study of the Lombardy region in Italy. The region is known worldwide for its design excellence through home furnishing companies such as Alessi. Despite this Verganti found that the regional design education centres were not considered to be better than any other. What he found was a particular approach to product design and development that can be applied to all industries and all regions.
The Lombardy group of companies meet regularly to discuss their industry. They discussed trends, styles, materials and technology. They did not just meet with other design companies, but with architects, critics, suppliers, curators and photographers. This group became immersed in discourse with the result that the identity and meaning of a product has been explored even before a product has been created.
What was essentially created was a design cluster. In the same way it is no coincidence that the vanguard for food production in this country is Cork. The artisan food producer movement began in Cork and it has a thriving food scene. Cork also has the best food networking in the country. They also have the best farmers markets – the place where consumer and producer meet, and Cork is the centre of the Slow Food Ireland movement.
The power of Design Thinking stems from the strength of links, and the quality of interactions between schools, manufacturers and distributors. When people get together for discourse, ideas are made. But Design Thinking is not just about ideas. It is about observation. It is a human centred approach that analyses human behaviours, needs and preferences. It looks at what makes people tick. At the moment people are looking for a connection to the land that has been lost. They are conscious of the need for sustainability but these needs are competing with economic concerns.
Traditionally new product launches are driven by technology push (the product is the result of a technological breakthrough) or market pull (based on market demand). Design thinking uses neither. Rather, it results in products that appeal to a deeper sense of meaning. Consider the proliferation of old-fashioned sweet products that have been re-launched. There was no technological change and there wasn’t an obvious market demand. But the producers tapped into a deep seated need that we all have for something old-fashioned and familiar, particularly in times of economic uncertainty.
In subsequent blogs we will look at how all food producers can learn from design thinking. It is a series we will call “Human Centred Food Production”!


For More on Verganti – See”Innovation Through Design” by Roberto Verganti, Harvard Business Review

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