Design thinking in the credit crunch

October 25, 2008 — 7 Comments

I met up with old friend and design thinking colleague Colin Burns last night. He is back living in bucolic Scotland these days and one of his many activities is to help out his friends Henry and Mo with their delicatessen in Kenmore on Loch Tay. The story Colin told me was that his wife Elaine came up with the idea of Credit Crunch cookies when Henry and Mo were talking about how the sale of cookies had soared since the credit crunch stories had started. You can check out Credit Crunch Cookies here and while I know this is shameless promotion I think it is a fantastic example of someone taking advantage of new consumer behaviors in a recession. Cookies represent an inexpensive way of having a treat when times are tough.

This is something I have been wondering about quite a bit recently. If a recession hits the reset switch for all of us then what new behaviors emerge that represent opportunities for innovation? Thinking back it seems like low cost airlines emerged in the recession of the late 80’s and early 90’s when consumers decided flying cheaply was more important than reserving your seat or having a crumby meal. That recession created a new industry that has gone on to disrupt nearly all of the existing incumbents.

I would argue that the recession of 2001 created new behaviours as well. The uncertainty created by 9/11 combined with the new access to the internet was a boon to any service that provided information, advice and reassurance. Google was the big winner but so was Trip Advisor, Angie’s List and WebMD. While the dotcom crash weeded out many of the weaker on-line offerings it also reinforced those that really did offer more for less just when we wanted it.

I am very interested in what new behaviors might emerge this time around and ultimately what innovations they may inspire. Will it be something to do with people changing their attitude toward saving versus spending? Will the growing uncertainty of the world encourage us to look for lives that are more resilient and sustainable versus ones where we are on the limit and vulnerable to the next downturn? It seems to me that now is the time that companies would be well served to think about this so that they are ready with the answers when the market turns. After all it isn’t only Credit Crunch Cookies that have the potential to make a killing.

Tim Brown


7 responses to Design thinking in the credit crunch

  1. I sense that this is a different kind of economic crisis from earlier ones, even the most recent post-9/11 one: there is a host of new problems, not just economic ones or those related to a loss of confidence in the market. There is the environment, a looming food crisis, balancing the need for economic growth with those of energy demands, an aging population, and so on. Yes, changing our way of thinking will help, but we will have to go deeper than that and anticipate big changes rather than address existing of near-future problems.

  2. This article comes at an interesting time, as I myself have been pondering similar questions. I live in Canada, and although the effects have not been severe, talks of an “economy in crisis” loom everyday. I’ve engaged friends across the border to ask them how attitudes and lifestyles have changed or mildly shifted, and it seems little has changed for the middle class. Those at the bottom of the spectrum, often in low-paying, unstable jobs – are losing their homes, and uprooting their lives. Those are the top of the spectrum, are seeing their high-paying glamorous jobs vanish, as banks continue to go under, alongside other players in the financial market. I am interested to see how this change of behavior continues to evolve, as the real face of the crisis comes to light. Its hard to imagine a population and community, with such an attachment to consumption, cut corners in any shape or form.

  3. cookies and chocolate are a safe bet in dire times. – those little pleasures that provide instant happiness.

    aside from that: maintenance replaces replacing. love replaces desire. – in other words: getting to know the product you own already instead of seeking pleasure in replacing it with the latest model.

    so much thought, love and care has been put into designing products lately and yet they are awaiting the test of time.

    now this time may just be about to start. – a time for people to become familiar with the products they have bought over the recent years.

    a time that will sharpen the senses.
    a time that will sharpen the senses for real good design when stocks have long melted and the ingenuity and thoughtfulness of some designers’ wonderful creation continues to bring pleasure every day and again.

    in the middle of the incredible richness of our contemporary consumer culture people will experience significant subjective loss. – the loss will be that of an accelerated culture coming to a very painful halt.

    the gain though is that this culture has not only been accelerated for its own sake by advertising and empty marketing promises. moreover it has also been filled as a wide and rich garden with some extremely wonderful artifacts, architecture, solutions and thought with a beauty yet waiting to be fully discovered.

    good times for the senses.
    good times for design.

  4. Save vs spend = look to ING Direct launched at end of dot-com bubble. Still the model of transparency/simplicity/purity.
    Speaking of transparency, more of less. See-through is the new black.
    We vs Me.
    Rehab for brands, especially financial, not just people.

  5. i agree with tim and crawford. it’s definitely about savings versus spending right now. conserving energy and resources. and knowing when you do spend, where those dollars are going. things will come a lot closer to home. and in terms of financial institutions, we’ll be opting for the smaller banks and credit unions versus the big behemoths that we already knew we couldn’t trust. our eyes will be peeled for more authenticity and more local connections.

  6. What a brilliant idea. I met Colin Burns once upon a time when he gave a tutorial/seminar during my masters degree, amazing guy.

    I saw this article today and thought it was quite interesting and it kind of agrees with what you are saying, although Michael O’Leary doesn’t have quite the same degree as elegance in his vocabulary as you do.

    Although, I can imagine that there will be no TV, no food below the price of £20, no leg room, and perhaps no engines, it might be a pedal for your life type of thing (idea stolen from my former tutor). But O’Leary is convinced there is a market and I wouldn’t doubt him.

  7. Gbenga Adetimehin November 15, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    According to, trends are described as manisfestation of new enablers unlocking existing human needs. These cookies typify this. I agree that the credit crunch cookies simply key into the common story and hopefully with each bite, shared with family and friends or alone over a cup of coffee, the gloomy economic situation and its far reaching consequences could be looked at in less serious light.
    It is not an atempt to make a joke of the situation but to take it in stride.

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