Yes, it’s the design thinking. It has both supporters and fierce opponents. Some see it as the cure for all evil and the solution to all possible problems. Others see it as a solution to the financial problems of those who use it and try to sell it to those who will fall for it. On top of that, there is the issue of environmental protection – because, as we know, „design thinkers” unnecessarily consume large quantities of yellow cards 😉
What is it really like? The answer to this question is not unequivocal and depends largely on who is trying to answer it. I will try to do it from the perspective of a designer and creative director, and a person who is definitely closer to admiration than criticism. In my opinion, design thinking used in the right way can do a lot of good. I am sure that I am not able to exhaust the topic in one entry, so dear reader, please treat this as an introduction to, perhaps, a longer series on this topic. So let’s start with…
… what exactly is design thinking?
In a nutshell, it’s a method of creative problem solving that was created and described by the founders of IDEO (designers of the first Apple mouse, the PDA, and many other products and services). Design thinking is a process that uses elements characteristic for designers work in creating products or solutions (hence the name design thinking).
To understand the idea of design thinking well, it is first important to remember the foundation on which this method is built. The basis of working in this way is the awareness that all actions we take are (and are supposed to be) oriented towards people and their needs. We do not want to solve imaginary problems, let alone create new ones. In my opinion, in this awareness lies the key to the right approach to design thinking – human-centered design is a much more important concept than design thinking.
Work Process and Mindset
The process is divided into 5 stages that can occur one after the other or in a different order if needed. In my opinion, it is best to go through all stages consecutively and then go back to the stage that we think we need. The whole process is iterative, of course, meaning we can do it several times until we reach the right solution. The stages look as follows:
The work process alternates between two ways of thinking – divergent thinking, which is focused on creating multiple solutions – used in the empathizing and ideation stages, and convergent thinking, which is focused on narrowing and selecting specific solutions – used in the defining and prototyping stages.
Empathize, or step into someone’s shoes
This, along with the problem definition, is the most important part of the process. When we want to solve a problem or create something new, we first need to find out as much as possible about the current state of affairs and the people involved. At this stage we talk to people, we listen, and most of all we look at their behavior when, for example, they are using a mobile application on their smartphone. We try to „step into the shoes” of the user to best understand the problem.
Define, or where the problem lies
At this stage, we gather information and try to systematize it. More than one person may participate in the process of empathizing (and it is even advisable), so it is important to exchange our findings and together define the problem we will want to solve.
Creating solutions, or a lot is good
If you’ve been waiting for the moment when the yellow cards appear – this is it. In the previous step, we defined the problem, so it’s time for solutions. We want to create as many ideas as possible, so during the idea generation session we focus on quantity, not quality (that will come later), we accept even the weirdest ideas and we build on other people’s suggestions. We say „yes, and…” – not „yes, BUT…”. My personal advice is that ideas often come to our minds in the first stages (empathizing and defining) and my recommendation is to follow the flow and write them down to have them on hand, we do not need to follow any strict rules here, especially the ones that could limit our creativity.
Prototyping, or „let’s get down to business”
In the previous stage, we should choose a few solutions that we want to prepare in the form of a prototype. It can be a few designs of a new mobile app, a mock-up of a website, or a model of a physical product made of plasticine – it all depends on what we are working on. But it should be simple and fast to do.
Testing, or we say „check”
At this stage, we present our prototypes to the people we work for (clients or/and users). We test to see if what we’ve come up with makes sense, we gather lessons learned that we can then incorporate into the next version of our solution.
As I mentioned, this process can be done from stage one to stage five or out of sequence and with going back to previous stages as much as we feel we need it. A lot will depend on what lessons we’ve learned and what we think we need to improve.
A few closing words
One of the „blind alleys” in thinking about design thinking lies in the name of this method. The creators and founders of the d.school at Stanford University themselves admit it – design thinking should be more associated with action than with just thinking.
For me this is one of the advantages of this method – the work is usually dynamic and, simply put, interesting. Especially if you prefer working with people rather than coming up with solutions on your own.