Design Thinking

Design Thinking, simply put, is the way designers think, as creative people able to start with something immaterial, an idea born from a user’s, human need and transform it into something physical, tangible.

The concept surged in popularity in recent years (visible in Google Trends), so „design thinking“ Google search lists over billion results today (March 2020), and Amazon search several thousand books, but design thinking isn’t new. For as long as original, creative, creators created, there was a design process they followed and scholars have been attempting to define it within psychology, anthropology, sociology. What is new is that design thinking as approach to innovative problem solving, as management practice, has become accessible to non-designers in the last 15-20 years. Vibrant discussions and numerous opposing viewpoints on value, significance and even definition of this concept are resulting from mixed perspectives.

Success of companies like Apple, IBM, Airbnb, Google, who made disruptive changes (some transformed themselves in the process) is said to be due to the innovation backed by the very design thinking paired with entrepreneurial culture. Their stories show that’s what it takes in today’s market. Design thinking expands horizons, creating new areas for problem solving, not easily perceived otherwise, and quickly validating them.

In the broad sense, design thinking is the sum of mindsets, principles, practices and tools that mimic the way some designers design and solve problems.

Tim Brown, former CEO of IDEO, that popularised design thinking, defines it as a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

Design thinking process illustrated by Stanford d.school (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design)

Design thinking is often represented through as a set of several (three to seven) phases or components. Stanford d.school, one of promoters of design thinking accessible to all, lists these five components (modes):

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

Design thinking process is not linear, these components are not sequential steps, they can be parallelised and repeated if needed.

Empathize is the founding componentof design thinking. The problem to be solved is rarely the problem of the designer, so the user, the user’s needs and the context surrounding them have to be understood, in order to solve the problem successfully, as the best solutions come from the best insights.

What is empathized and discovered about the user has to be interpreted, reviewed in new light in the define component, in order for the problem to be clearly defined from the user’s perspective.

A clearly defined problem, reviewed in the light of new insights, can be subject ideation, or generation of alternative, if possible, radically creative, innovative solutions.

Design thinking is actually more than just thinking, it is also doing. Solving complex, unknown problems requires more than what’s known, something new has to be tried. So, an early validation of the idea through a prototype and testing with the users is the way to go.

Prototyping, transforming an immaterial idea into something tangible (only very quickly, much faster than it would take to produce complete solution) allows for the idea to be tried, tested and that way quickly validated if it is any good, or it would need some improvements through the next iteration.

In doing all this, designers use different tools. Stay tuned, in the following articles we will review the tools most often used.

About Milena Medjak 6 Articles
Milena Međak is business analyst focused on the experience, currently exploring analysis within agile software development in Endava. As an accomplished service design practitioner, she has hands-on experience in CEM and customer-facing processes. Milena believes in holistic customer-centric approach and practices design thinking (and doing) in all her business and private endeavors.

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