Design thinking is a problem-solving method used to create practical and creative solutions while addressing the needs of users. The process is extremely user centric as it focuses on understanding the needs of users and ensuring that the solutions created solve users' needs.
Why is the design thinking process important?
The design thinking process can be used in companies to reduce the time it takes to bring a product to the market. Design thinking can significantly reduce the amount of time spent on design and development.
The design thinking process increases return of investment as the products are user-centric, which helps increase user engagement and user retention. It's been seen that a more efficient workflow due to design thinking gave 75% savings in design and development time, 50% reduction in defect rate, and a calculated ROI of more than 300%.
When and where should the design thinking process be used?
The design thinking process should especially be used when dealing with human-centric challenges and complex challenges. The design thinking process helps break down complex problems and experiment with multiple solutions. Design thinking can be applied in these contexts: human-centred innovation, problems affecting diverse groups, involving multiple systems, shifting markets and behaviours, complex societal challenges, problems that data can't solve, and more.
A class of problems called wicked problems is where design thinking can help. Wicked problems are not easy to define and information about them is confusing. They have many stakeholders and complex interdependencies.
What are the principles of the design thinking process?
- The human rule: All design activity is social because all social innovation will bring us back to the "human-centric point of view".
- The ambiguity rule: Ambiguity is inevitable, and it can't be removed or oversimplified. Experimenting at the limits of your knowledge and ability is crucial in being able to see things differently.
- The redesign rule: While technology and social circumstances may change, basic human needs remain unchanged. So, every solution is essentially a redesign.
- The tangibility rule: Making ideas tangible by creating prototypes allows designers to communicate them effectively.
What are the typical steps of a design thinking process?
- Empathy: Put yourself in the shoes of the user and look at the challenge from the point of view of the user. Refrain from making assumptions or suggesting answers. Suspend judgements throughout the process.
- Define: Create a challenge statement based on the notes and thoughts you have gained from the empathizing step. Go back to the users and modify the challenge statement based on their inputs. Refer to the challenge statement multiple times throughout the design thinking process.
- Ideate: Come up with ideas to solve the proposed challenge. Put down even the craziest ideas.
- Prototype: Make physical representations of your ideas and solutions. Get an understanding of what the final product may look like, identify design flaws or constraints. Take feedback from users. Improve the prototype through iterations.
- Test: Evaluate the prototype on well-defined criteria.
Note that empathy and ideate are divergent steps whereas others are convergent. Divergent means expanding information with alternatives and solutions. Convergent is reducing information or filtering to a suitable solution.
What should I keep in mind when applying the design thinking process?
Every designer can use a variation of the design thinking process that suits them and customize it for each challenge. Although distinct steps are defined, design thinking is not a linear process. Rather, it's very much iterative. For example, during prototyping we may go back to redefine the problem statement or look for alternative ideas. Every step gives us new information that might help us improve on previous steps.
While the steps are clear, applying them correctly is not easy. To identify what annoys your clients, ask questions. Empathy means that you should relate to their problems. Open-ended questions will stimulate answers and help identify the problems correctly.
At the end of the process, as a designer, reflect on the way you've gone through the process. Identify areas of improvement or how you could have done things differently. Gather insights on the way you went through the design thinking process.
What do I do once the prototype is proven to work?
The prototype itself can be said to "work" only after we have submitted it to the clients for feedback. Use this feedback to improve the prototype. Make the actual product after incorporating all the feedback from the prototype.
Gathering feedback itself is an important activity. Present your solution to the client by describing the thought process by which the challenge was solved. Take notes from users and ensure that they are satisfied with the final product. It's important not to defend your product. It's more important to listen to what users have to say and make changes to improve the solution.
Present several versions of the prototype so that users can compare and express what they like and dislike. Consider using I Like, I Wish, What If method for gathering feedback. Get feedback from regular users as well as extreme users with highly opinionated views. Be flexible and improvise during testing sessions. Allow users to contribute ideas.
What are some ways to get more ideas?
Design thinking is not about applying standard off-the-shelf solutions. It's about solving difficult problems that typically require creative approaches and innovation. More ideas, the better. Use different techniques such as brainstorming, mind mapping, role plays, storyboarding, etc.
Innovation is not automatic and needs to be fostered. We should create the right mindsets, an open and explorative culture. Designers should combine both logic and imagination. Teams should be cross-disciplinary and collaborative. Work environments must be conductive to innovation.
When framing the problem, think about how the challenge can be solved in a certain place or scenario. For example, think about how one of your ideas would function differently in a setting such as a kitchen.
The Conference on Systematic and Intuitive Methods in Engineering, Industrial Design, Architecture and Communications is held in London. It explores design processes and new design methods. Although the birth of design methodology can be traced to Zwicky's Morphological Method (1948), it's this conference that recognizes design methodology as a field of academic study.
Rittel publishes The State of the Art in Design Methods. He argues that the early approaches of the 1960s were simplistic, and a new generation of methodologies are beginning to emerge in the 1970s. Rather than optimize through systematic methods, the second generation is about finding a satisfactory solution in which designers partner with clients, customers and users. This approach is probably more relevant to architecture and planning than engineering and industrial design.
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