Founded in 2012, DesignThinkers Group US is among the first organizations bringing design thinking to South Carolina.
Partners Joel Van Dyke and Marc Bolick started an independent firm affiliated with the Amsterdam-based DesignThinkers group, which applies human-centered design principles to solving problems in non-design businesses. It is one of 13 worldwide. Van Dyke is also a partner at Freeman & Major Architects, and Bolick maintains his tech marketing and business development consultation, DMarc8 International.
DTG’s process, which relies on giant sheets of paper and copious Post-it notes, is refreshingly tactile and colorful. Workshops help organizations better serve their customers and internal stakeholders.
How did you come to work with a Dutch firm?
JVD: The original connection was made through social media. The economy tanked and hit architecture really hard, and by late 2009 I realized it was not turning around. I was looking for any avenue that would enhance [Freeman & Major] marketing and for services we can offer that people would still need during a recession. I felt like architecture’s creative problem-solving could apply to other avenues.
After a Greenville Chamber small business event about marketing where I learned about Twitter and LinkedIn, I set out to make meaningful face-to-face connections through Twitter. I started following people who were talking about design and connected with Arne Van Oosterom [partner, DesignThinkers in Amsterdam]. I met up with him at a small conference in Berlin with well-known people in the design thinking field in 2011. I was the only American in attendance.
We met again and Skyped frequently. When I was ready to launch a design thinking consultancy in May 2012, Arne asked that it become DesignThinkers US.
How did Marc get involved?
JVD: I connected with Marc at a small launch event I had. The difference between Marc’s backgrounds and mine has proven to be a really good thing in that we complement each other.
How is the business structured?
MB: We have two more strategic partners in Charlotte. There’s no employment relationship with them, which is a common model with DTGs around the world. Our goal here is to expand the number of people who are part of the company, but we’re doing that through these strategic partnerships.
How does the global affiliation affect the business?
JVD: It has been of huge value. Each DTG group comes from a different background, and we might get a project similar to what Jorge in Spain has done or somebody in Tel Aviv has done, and we can get on Skype and pick their brains about it, and that is a huge plus.
How does DTG work with your other businesses?
MB: I’ve become much more of a coach, facilitator or mentor, as opposed to, “I’ll go out and do it for you.”
JDV: It has allowed us to transform some of the services that we offer to our architecture clients. We had a Web design company looking to relocate, and used things like bottles, pipe cleaners and magazine clippings to help them work out and explain their needs.
Do you only work with businesses?
MB: We’re working with Fort Mill Church in Clemson on a master plan for their facilities. With a group of 50 people from throughout the church we created “personas” to explore how different people experience the church as they move through the building. Personas are a powerful tool used in Web design.
JVD: That was a learning process for us. We knew some people could be possibly frustrated with the workshop because it didn’t overtly focus on their building issues. It was more about their needs, and out of that we identified a lot of facility related issues that needed to be addressed. But the feedback was that this was so much more meaningful because now we understand where our buildings are helping us and where they are hindering us and where they need to be changed.
Did you get that economic payoff you originally sought?
JVD: Yes. Problems are less cyclical or tied to economic ups and downs, because when there’s a downturn you have new problems to solve.