Design thinking is a powerful innovation process to unlock user needs and build future products.

Design thinking is a process that uses a designer’s sensibility to find unmet needs and opportunities to create new solutions that matter to people. The objective is to involve consumers, designers and businesspeople in an integrative process, which can be applied to product, service or even business design. It is a tool to imagine future states and to bring products, services and experiences to market.

In short, design thinking is a methodology to enable innovation. It does this by:

  • Supporting the build-up of ideas and priorities
  • Taking risks at early stages
  • Eliminating the fear of failure
  • Deeply understanding the customer and their goals, behaviors and attitudes
  • Testing ideas early on to gain immediate feedback
  • Challenging a product or services usability, feasibility and perceived value

While businesses typically focus on metrics and analytics, the focus of design thinking is primarily on human-centered goals and invention. 

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The sharing economy is an exciting new area of growing peer-to-peer marketplaces.

In short, the sharing economy is used to describe an economic model based on sharing, swapping, bartering, trading or renting access to products as opposed to ownership.

It takes a variety of forms, often leveraging information technology to empower individuals, corporations, nonprofits and government with information that enables distribution, sharing and reuse of excess capacity in goods and services.

Digital innovation is creating entirely new ways to build these kinds of businesses. These new services are unlocking a new generation of micro-entrepreneurs of people who are making money from the assets and skills they already own.

The sharing economy is already transforming many sectors, including accommodation, skills and transport. It is spreading across new sectors, including food, fashion and consumer electronics, and changing the way businesses work with each other.

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Designing interfaces for human to computer interactions in the cognitive machine learning era is the next great design challenge.

Cognitive systems incorporate psychological data, similar to the ways humans think and process information. They have been created to engage the inherent functions of human cognition and increase one's reasoning capabilities. In non-technical terms, this type of system can be viewed as an aid that helps people process information and make quick decisions. The original basis for cognitive systems is based on theories from psychology and is also part of the artificial intelligence (AI) movement. 

Cognitive systems is a category of technologies that uses natural language processing and machine learning to enable people and machines to interact more naturally to extend human knowledge. These systems will eventually be able to learn and interact to provide ancillary assistance to users in a fraction of the time it now takes.

They will not replace people and human knowledge; however, cognitive systems will extend our reasoning and free us to think more creatively. In so doing, they will speed the spread of knowledge and ultimately give people ways to digest and make informed decisions on unstructured information in real-time. 

Below are some videos of the ongoing work by IBM Research on WatsonPaths to show this in practice, WatsonPaths is a cognitive computing project that enables more natural interaction between physicians, data and electronic medical records.

Where it's at. 

Taking the physical location out of the equation is a very powerful thing, accelerating due to cloud technologies and tools.  

Digital nomads are individuals who leverage cloud technologies to perform their work duties and, more generally conduct their lifestyle in a nomadic manner. Such workers typically work remotely from home, coffee shops and public libraries to accomplish tasks and goals that traditionally took place in a single stationary workplace.

Nomadic entrepreneurs and professionals often work as freelance writers, photographers, video makers, affiliate marketers, web designers, software developers, graphic designers and other types of knowledge workers who can perform work duties untethered of physical location. They use technologies like WiFi, smartphones, Voice over IP and cloud-based applications to conduct business, work remotely and earn an income wherever they live or travel. Digital nomads also often utilize co-working spaces and shared offices in major cities around the world.

There’s been a large increase in digital nomads traveling internationally and moving abroad, while they continue to work with clients or employers in the U.S and Europe.

In the next decade, an increase in tools and marketplaces should continue to support this lifestyle as the world continues to flatten and people can stay connected while wandering around from country to country. These ambitious people will unearth new products built for niche users in remote areas of the world.

 
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Design needs to be embedded early in the process and ideally has a seat at the investment table.

More and more, the distinguishing factor of today's brightest companies is their design culture, teams and how embedded they are in helping solve the business problems early on.

Many of today's leading applications and tools are based upon known user needs that have been simplified and made elegant. When looking at investing in startups, VC firms now realize that design must play a larger role, not just to develop a product or service, but also to audit the current design direction. Businesses that struggle with design will likely have far larger barriers down the road that will limit the potential ROI of any investment. Basically with the API economy always building and layering on top of it’s self, design is at the heart of what can be a success or failed investment. 

So, it only makes sense that in distinguishing the next wave of apps and platforms worthy of VC investment, designers are now getting positions at the top of firms to weigh in on the discussion. However, the design partner or Chief Design Officer is a fairly new role, founded, as far as Fast Company can find, in 2009 when Google Ventures created the position to elevate design for good. Given the position's relative infancy, we’re just now starting to see the various ways the design partner’s role at a VC firm evolves.