We have been hearing the term “design thinking” more than often over the last few years. Everyone, from the CEOs to marketing teams to design interns, have been using this word. But before we get into a debate about whether it’s worth giving a serious thought or not, let’s try to understand what design thinking actually is.
Design thinking taps into capacities we all have, but that are overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It it not only human-centered; it is deeply human in, and of itself.
— Tim Brown, Change by Design
What Design Thinking is not?
Design thinking has nothing to do with design or creatives per se, nor does it have anything to do with colors, fonts, shapes etc. What it is — is a process by which designers approach a problem. And by designers, we mean solution designers — which encompasses traditional non visual designers too.
And what is the process you may ask — the process is to understand the user, question all assumptions, and redefine the problems enabling the designer to view things from a different perspective, come up with alternate strategies and solutions that might not be instantly clear with the initial levels of understanding.
Let’s deep dive to understand what this means.
Think about this for a moment. Whatever is being built/manufactured/designed or anything which is made by a human — is made for other humans. Technologies, solutions, platforms, ecosystems, products, services, models, infrastructure, applications — you name it. Now, when this is the case, shouldn’t the first question when something is being “designed” or when a problem is being solved be ..
What is the human need behind the solution?
Let’s use an example to understand this better. A restaurant is not doing too well. It has bad reviews on food, ambiance and service. Now, as someone responsible for changing all of this for the better, what would you do? Do you jump right away to solve the problem by changing the menu itself? Do you redo the interiors and may be even a complete rebrand? Do you ask your service staff to up their game? All of this could be solutions, but temporary ones.
For a more impactful solution, we bring design thinking into play. By employing design thinking, you will start to notice from the standpoint of what is desirable from human point of view — whether your solution components are feasible, and viable.
So, instead of jumping in right away from a straight line solution, let’s first try to understand the problem a little better. The reviews say the customers don’t like the food, ambiance and the service. The problem might not be the food itself, it can be the way it’s being served, may be the temperature because of the time it takes the food to go from pan to plate, or it could be the ambiance. The place might be congested because of too many tables crammed together. Or there could be lack of adequate ventilation, which would mix up smells, in turn affecting the taste and flavor experience of the food. There are numerous possibilities, but once you understand the customer, and start asking the right questions, this opens the door for us to think outside the box, and bring in an impactful solutions framework.
How does the design thinking process work?
The process starts with taking actions and understanding the right questions.
- Understand — Figure out what the problem is. Start questioning assumptions. Clarify whether what is assumed to be the problem, is it actually the problem? Engage with customers and get a learned outside perspective on the problem or the product/service which is being built. This helps us look at the problem from a fresh, outside viewpoint.
- Ideate — Form ideas based on the data/information which is collected by understanding the users/customers.
- Prototype — Build solutions based on the ideas, and then them out to see if they can provide high impact solutions.
It is crucial to note that these stages are not always sequential, or that they follow a specific order. Let me explain, once you understand the problem and start ideating or prototyping, you might stumble upon a different layer of underlying problems — and there’s nothing wrong with that. This would take us back to the Understand phase. Or, the prototype might not work as intended, so it’s back to the Ideate or Understand phase! This is why design thinking is built to be an iterative process.
Why the need for design thinking?
Thinking outside the box is always a challenge, since we are naturally ingrained with a set pattern of thinking for repetitive activities. This set pattern limits us from looking at things from a different perspective, and eventually slows down our ability to come up with innovative ideas.
The design thinking approach helps us bypass these limits by helping us understand the unmet needs of people, which leads to better products and long term solutions. With quick, low fidelity experiments, it reduces assumptions and provides learnings. Thus, revolutionary ideas are born.
Where does one use design thinking?
Design thinking works independent of what business vertical you operate in. I believe it can be used everywhere — in organizations, businesses, product design, engineering, arts, science — even in our very own day to day lives! How amazing is that! Check out this video (skip to 1:36)
Is design thinking a fad, or is it here to stay? Now, I am not saying that it is the only approach, nor am I saying that it is fail-safe. Though people are still debating on its definition and value, it is maturing. Organizations are deploying the concept, and more lives are getting transformed by it. Based on the practical positive impact it is bringing, I would say this one is here to stay.
Sources for a few of my thoughts were from IDEO & Interaction Design Foundation.
Chetan V, Head of Design, Zensciences.