A Beginner’s Guide to Design Thinking
Businesses competing in the current global marketplace are facing problems that are increasingly complex and challenging to solve. Although a yes or no answer from someone in the C-suite may resolve some issues, other problems are too vague or lacking in parameters to be resolved with a one-word answer.
In recent years, design thinking has become a buzzword across industries, largely beginning with the software development vertical. While design thinking is a term that’s still relatively new to some, the design thinking process has been around for decades. Originally developed by Nobel Prize Laureate Herbert Simon way back in 1969, the design thinking process has taken on various iterations in the years since, with some being taught at prestigious schools like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford d.school.
The Definition of Design Thinking
To put it simply, design thinking is a human-centric, experience-focused mindset that’s meant to help you solve problems creatively. While different styles of design thinking have varying numbers of steps, all of them rest on three cornerstones: empathy, ideation, and experimentation.
Phases of the Design Thinking Process
In any form, the design thinking process often takes participants through a set of phases as they labor to solve a problem. Depending on the issue at hand, you may find that some phases occur concurrently while others are more like a stand-alone breakout session. Whether they occur simultaneously or independently of each other, each phase of the design thinking process is critical to the development of a creative solution to a problem.
The first phase of design thinking is to empathize with the users for whom you are creating a solution. You need to familiarize yourself with those users and immerse yourself in the problem they’re grappling with. Gaining an intimate familiarity with these users and their problem will set the figurative stage for success and it will prepare you to anticipate issues that may arise in the later stages of the design thinking process.
Define the Problem
Defining the problem is arguably the most important phase when it comes to design thinking. In this phase, the goal is to create a problem statement that’s broad enough to encompass the entire problem but detailed enough to identify all the related underlying issues.
It can be difficult for some to grasp this, but the goal of the ideation stage isn’t to come up with an actionable solution to a problem. Instead, the objective here is to brainstorm any and all possible problem solutions. No suggestion that’s thrown out in this phase is wrong, even if some of them end up being shelved down the line.
This phase is where you should encourage yourself and your team members to challenge the status quo with ideas. The key to doing that is refusing to accept that the way something has been done in the past is the only way to do the same thing moving forward.
Prototyping and Testing
After you brainstorm a solution or several of them, it’s time to test how they perform in the context of resolving the problem. Develop your preferred solution on a small scale and test it with groups of people consisting of real users. Depending on how well your solution does with resolving the problem in a test scenario, you may find you and your team need to refine your initial solution or shift gears and give another one a try.
Even if you’re up against a tight deadline, it’s vital to refuse the temptation of skipping the prototyping and testing phase. It’s only by prototyping that you can identify and fix possible failure points before you fully implement your tested solution.
After testing your group’s solution and seeing that it’s successful at resolving the problem, it’s time to fully implement the solution. While other problem-solving methods are typically outcome-focused, design thinking is people-centric. With that in mind, it’s necessary to remain in constant contact with users to get their feedback regarding the effectiveness of the solution in the real-world.
The feedback you get from users may require you to further tweak the solution as it’s implemented in carefully monitored intervals. Even after your team’s solution is fully implemented, you should revisit the solution to ensure it will continue to be effective over the long-haul.
Design Thinking vs Design Sprint
As design thinking has taken hold in many conference rooms in recent times, the idea of design sprints has continued to evolve as a result. Whereas design thinking is a mindset or methodology that plays out over time, a design sprint is a practical way of using the elements of design thinking in an intensive process that produces a tangible result in what’s often a comparatively short period of time.
Think Wrong Sprint
While design sprints produce results faster than design thinking, they don’t suit everyone’s needs because they don’t always yield game-changing results. If your design time is looking for ingenious solutions, you may want to employ a think wrong sprint rather than a design sprint. In general, a think wrong sprint relies on ingenuity, which requires sprint participants to use existing resources in original, clever, and practical ways to resolve the problem before them quickly.
Many companies use agile design to address problems, with agile design employing the same precepts as design thinking. Agile design basically rests between the design thinking philosophy and the practice of design sprints. Think wrong sprints sit where agile design and design sprints intersect, thereby gleaning the best of both.
Having won more than 250 design awards over the course of his illustrious career, John Bielenberg co-wrote the book “Think Wrong: How to Conquer the Status Quo and Do Work That Matters” with Mike Burn and Greg Galle. When asked about his collaborative book, Bielenberg commented, “The nice thing about Thinking Wrong is you can plug any challenge into it and it generates ideas that couldn’t be conceived any other way. We call it Conceiving the Inconceivable. It’s designed to unlock the latent creativity and ingenuity in everybody.”
To unlock that ingenuity, “Think Wrong: How to Conquer the Status Quo and Do Work That Matters” prescribes six best-practices: be bold, get out, let go, make stuff, bet small, and move fast. Those six practices combine to create a highly effective approach to solving problems of all sizes.