Design Thinking - a non-linear process
The Design Thinking framework was popularised by the Stanford Design School. Based on the Scientific Method, David Kelly, Co-founder of IDEO and founder of Stanford Design School, introduced empathy to the Scientific Method and Design Thinking was born! It was created as a way to make the creative process repeatable. And used as a system to approach difficult problems in order to create suitable outcomes.
Design thinking combines the problem solving routes of design with a hyper focus on users. Truly empathising with what else the user is doing, where they are using a product, what their motivations are and what they are trying to achieve by using a product.
Design Thinking, the Scientific Method and Agile
Like the Scientific Method and agile, its more than a methodology or framework. It’s a way of thinking, a certain approach to solving complex challenges, guided by some principals.
The Scientific Method, Agile and Design Thinking could be considered more like mindsets. They’re all approaches that focus on action and human (or natural) centred experiences that guide the team to the correct outcome. They’re all non linear, and can’t be completed by one specific approach. But are iterative, regularly testing and learning, within an approach that can be used to guide the team and the design of the outcome. So you could think of Design Thinking of being an extension of the Scientific Method.
In essence, the Design Thinking process is iterative, flexible and focused on collaboration between designers and users, with an emphasis on bringing ideas to life based on how real users think, feel and behave.
Design Thinking tackles complex problems by:
- Empathising: Understanding the human needs involved.
- Defining: Re-framing and defining the problem in human-centric ways.
- Ideating: Creating many ideas in ideation sessions.
- Prototyping: Adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping.
- Testing: Developing a prototype/solution to the problem.
Design Thinking looks at having a beginners mindset and approach to problems, so you can explore every possible avenue, having lots of possibilities and not being closed or judgemental of ideas. It’s about having not only empathy with our end users but also having a human centred approach to the way we design and work as a team, to uncover deep needs and unmet needs. Design Thinking allows the team to define a problem with a specific point of view and then be able to reframe a problem by using a different point of view. Ultimately allowing the team to ideate and generate innovative solutions by democratising design through testing hypothesis and prototypes.
Developing a great Point of View
A good point of view can align your team, provide a way to compare competing ideas and fuel brainstorms. The DSchool at Stanford came up with a great POV checklist:
- Provide focus and frame the problem
- Provide a reference for evaluating competing ideas
- Empower team members to make decisions in line with your team goals
- Fuel brainstorms (using ‘how might we …’ statements etc.)
- Develop understanding and inspire your team and people you meet along the way
- Save time producing solution concepts that are all things to all people, or don’t meet the needs of the business or users
Continually testing and learning is key to Design Thinking. So at every step of the way you allow the team to create more certainly and rethink, relearn and reboot to realign and check in that the most value is being extracted from the possible solution. You won’t go too far wrong if you test early and test often, it’s a great safeguard for teams and individuals.
‘Prototype like you’re right, test like you’re wrong’
Design Thinking can help to explore innovative solutions. Innovation can’t be a one-time affair; it needs to be part of the company’s approach and mindset. So Design Thinking was used to enable and embed this mindset into company’s ethos.
Innovation doesn’t always come that easily, even in small, agile companies. That’s where Design Thinking comes in.
Say NO to Gold plating and YES to Innovatio
And Design Thinking isn’t just to enable creativity and design solutions and products. It can also be used to design teams. IBM have used it to shape products and teams, leading to them to pivot how they have relationships with their partners and them becoming more solution providers and not just hardware producers from the 1980’s. These days IBM have teams that service industries with solutions.
A classic example of Design Thinking was the Apollo 13 Mission Control Team when they needed to work around the oxygen tank exploding. I’m sure everyone has seen the movie, but the team had to brainstorm a new flight plan with the top engineers and scientists.
Reflecting on Design Thinking I can see that it’s the mindset more than the tools we use. So I’m going to look back at design frameworks to compare what they add to the creative process and if one framework can ever be used all the time.