Don’t be thrown off by the terminology. Design Thinking isn’t just for designers. It’s a methodology that results in a different approach to solving problems, something that is a little more solution-based and focused on users.
When tackling problems at work, regardless of your industry, you can use some of the tactics in this article to battle with complex problems within your projects, company and the same goes for problems on a larger scale.
Defining Design Thinking
What is Design Thinking exactly? Design Thinking is all about a process that will result in solutions to a problem that were initially not apparent. It is a way of thinking, as implied, but also a hands-on approach to solving complex problems.
There are 5 stages to the Design Thinking process. The first one is centered on human needs, the second frames the problem by clearly defining it, the third is the brainstorming stage, the fourth is a hands on approach to prototyping and the fifth is the testing phase. These 5 stages are said to help think outside the box and come up with better, clearer and improved solutions. It is also said to be a non linear approach.
Some confuse the term with strictly design disciplines and a creativity tool that encourages a mountain of post-its, but it’s really far from the truth. It’s not just about design, it’s about a different way of thinking and solving problems.
Of course, design methodologies are part of the idea. Think broader, as something that can be applied to many disciplines. It encourages collaboration, and illuminates a vision based on something essential – human needs.
5 stages of the Design Thinking process
Stemming from the word ‘empathy’, the first stage of the design process is exactly about placing yourself in someone else’s shoes. This means conducting research, while keeping the human factor very much alive to gain a better understanding of your users and their needs.
Think about the problem you’d like to solve. Consult professionals to find out more about this area of concern. Talk to people. Get to know how they feel. In this stage, quantity doesn’t trump quality. Find people that can represent a diverse audience that will use your product or services.
What this phase helps with is understanding the user side of things instead of relying on your own assumptions. You get unique insights into your audience, their needs, desires, wishes and feelings. This is crucial to any project.
2. Define (the problem)
Moving on to phase 2 involves putting your research together, analyzing the problem once again and start looking at places where your project fills the gap. This is the time to really focus, keeping in mind your findings from the first stage.
What core problems are you able to identify based on your research? Once you pinpoint the needs of your users, you can start looking for opportunities to solve actual problems that concern your audience. Once you’re able to clearly define the problem, you can focus on solving it. Which brings us to phase 3.
In this phase, you are to really stretch what is and isn’t possible. There’s no single solution to a problem so you need to come up with as many ideas as possible. Don’t be afraid to suggest something that’s really ‘out there’ or something that is obvious and simple. There are no bad ideas.
The reason why this phase is so interesting is because a single idea can give way to other ideas and if this is done with a team, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how ideas grow and expand. A single idea can string together lots of other ideas which in turn could lead to a very unusual project.
This phase is not a time to criticise ideas or throw them out the window, the evaluation stage comes later. The objective is to embrace all the different opinions, hear everyone out and build on existing solutions.
Design Thinking also welcomes a team approach to problem solving. To finish up in this stage, you need to pick out your best ideas and narrow down to move on.
Perhaps the most time consuming part will be the prototype stage. A prototype is a sample version of your product, which you will use to test before the launch of the real thing. This phase is important because it can potentially save you a lot of costs before you invest into the final product.
If your product, solution or plan fails, you will know so in this stage. This is the rough draft of your final solution that will help you decide how to go about the final product. These prototypes will be shared with all team members and tested.
You have to keep in mind all previous phases of Design Thinking. This is the stage during which you can experiment. You can go on to accept your prototype or work to improve it. At the end of this phase, you will have a better idea of the limitations of your product, how well it solves your problem and how you can improve it to provide a better experience for users. How will they think, feel, and behave with your prototype? Don’t rush because the answer to this one is what will transition you into the final stage.
Designers test the finished product to offer the best solutions to some of the problems that may have risen during the prototype phase. Users get to interact with your product, offer feedback and possible solutions.
The test phase is also very centered on your users and the final outcome. Have you addressed all the issues from earlier stages? Small tweaks here and there might be necessary to test and test again. Keep an open mind to how your audience will react to your final product and most importantly, pay attention to the users.
Design Thinking is not limited to the design industry. It’s important that you understand this and really dig deeper, beyond the text, to see how you can apply this to your business, company or the launch of a new product.
It always starts with a challenge. You must move through the different stages of Design Thinking to solve the posed problem, help your team understand and help each other by collaborating to find a resolution to the problem. You’re constantly moving towards the end result, keeping in mind this approach that really isn’t linear but quite dynamic by nature.
Design Thinking really is a solution-based approach. It’s extremely handy for tricky problems and is a great way to get everyone involved. Want to think outside the box? Then it’s really time you and your team get on board with design thinking.