There has been a lot of discussion about Design Thinking lately. It's an important topic and certainly needs more discussion to achieve better clarity in its meaning as we translate from theory to practice. However, I want to make sure we don't lose sight of the business value of design as a discipline in and of itself.
The outcome of my work is usually the identification of a market opportunity, a business strategy to realize that opportunity, and criteria for solutions to satisfy that opportunity. To me, one of the most important functions of the design discipline is to take information that is tacit, and make it explicit; we call it information design. When an information designer visualizes the relationship between the different aspects of a recommendation, a model is created which makes a holistic understanding possible. Any flaws in logic or previous assumptions are made clear, as are the implications of the decisions that will be made to move ahead. As such, any tacit assumptions that people bring to the discussion are made explicit, and the group can truly align on a common understanding. This is what I mean by "designing" or "visualizing" a business strategy or model, and information design is a critical skill in developing models that achieve this level of clarity.
In many organizations design is used only in the development of the actual product or communication, as done by product or graphic designers. These too are important design skills, but they happen after the criteria for the solution is established. Here the design skill is used to translate intangible criteria into tangible offerings. The extent to which the designer can convey the intent of the solution is what will determine its ultimate success.
How is the design discipline used in your organization? If the designer's role is to apply their personal aesthetic tastes to make an offering "look" better, then you are missing out on an opportunity to make your organization's tacit assumptions more explicit, enabling better decisions to be made. It may be time to rethink how you define the quality and value of design in your business.