Candid With Ken Koo – What is Design Thinking?

You best know him as the man behind the red dot awards – concept design, Singapore, however I know Ken Koo as the visionary behind many design initiatives across this island country. We almost lost him to the world of finance, with his degree in accountancy; Ken began his career with numbers. But like they say … Accenture’s loss is now the design fraternity’s gain! I hope to turn my many conversations with Ken into a bustling series, and that you readers and I can pick his brains on topics related to the business of design.

I kickstart this episode with the ever imposing question about Design Thinking!


A lot of talk is there about design thinking and how it helps both designer and entrepreneurs. Ken, if you were to explain what Design Thinking is to a common person with zero design background, then how will you explain it?


Design Thinking is a set of tools and methods to help one break free of preconceived ideas and notions. It provides ways to observe understand and derive innovative ideas on how to solve a problem or achieve an objective.

One key tool is ethnography, which we can use to observe the customers, space, interaction etc, in order to reveal latent needs and issues. As always, you never can really get the real picture just by listening to your clients. If they would have known the exact problem or opportunity, they would have embarked on it already.

As a designer, the tool helps us organize the mess of data into meaningful observation. Techniques to derive innovative solutions and approaches like “rule bending” challenges norms and open up minds to create new ideas…


After you have sorted out the design thinking process, and you present to your client the solutions, what is the best way to make a compelling presentation; any tips?


What is the best way to make a compelling presentation? Ultimately, what will make the client make serious efforts to implement any solutions is how it impacts the business’s profitability. You cannot just present what it (your design solution) can do for the client design wise. Many clients cannot fully appreciate it in that way. But if you also present how it might impact the business, its profitability, client retention, cost reduction, market expansion etc. then you have nailed it right!

Photos: Fotolia & Will Hilton


Ken Koo is Asia President for the red dot design award and is responsible for the third installation of the red dot design award focusing on design concepts titled the red dot award: design concept He is also the initiator of MAAD, the market of artists and designers at the red dot design museum in Singapore.