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What is Design Thinking?
Table of Contents
We like to think about it in two parts to simplify the definition. The first is just a mindset: it’s an ideology of approaching every problem in a user-centered way. It’s that simple. Now, where the complexity comes in is in the second part of that definition which is the six-step process that most people know.
Now, the six steps are only there to help you practice that ideology of user-centered design. So what are these six steps?
The first step is Empathize.
You want to pull qualitative data like user interviews, direct observation, contextual inquiry, and diary studies to understand your current user’s needs.
And then we get to Step 2: Defining.
Many people think about coming up with ideas in the opposite way: come up with many different ideas and then narrow them down. Design thinking flips this on its head. It says let’s come up with and define the problem before we even consider the solutions. This is step 2, the definition of the problem: what user need you and your team want to satisfy.
Once you know the problem statement from Step 2, we bring that into Step 3: Ideation.
This is when we start to consider the wide range of potential solutions. We generate crazy, wild ideas and then slowly narrow them down.
So once we have all of these ideas from Step 3, we move them into Step 4: Prototyping.
This is when our ideas start to manifest for the first time. We can test them with end-users, and we can begin to iterate until they’re at a place where they represent what the end product may be.
And then go into step 5, and this is Testing.
Testing ideas in order to make sure that the user knows how to use them and that they truly resonate with their needs. And then we get into Step 6. This is the “Design Doing” of the “Design Thinking.” You have to implement that idea.
Put that vision into effect so that it touches an end user’s life. That said, even though those six steps are often presented and taught linearly, I want you to remember that you can practice them and should practice them dynamically. Adapt them to your needs.
Our field already has so many different terms and processes, so why introduce yet another thing that’s new? Design Thinking benefits extend far beyond the process itself.
It fosters collaboration, it helps create design artifacts that you can return to, and most importantly, it gives you a tangible way always to make sure that you’re keeping the user at the center of your products. Now, nothing in Design Thinking is new. Instead, it’s pulling methodology from all of the different genres that have existed much longer and applying them in a new way.
Is there a better way to keep the user at the center of every decision you’re making?
Next time you’re problem-solving, think about the Design Thinking process. Is there a better way to keep the user at the center of every decision you’re making?
One of the questions we get most is how and where to start design thinking. What you need to remember is the design thinking definition is really broad. The definition is split into two parts: an ideology or mindset for approaching a problem. Contrary to popular belief, this mindset isn’t really about design. It’s about helping companies and individuals to think differently about strategic options and system impact.
Design thinking basically incorporates three elements from various design disciplines and is most powerful if you combine them with strategic context. This is where d-school meets b-school. In order to do this, there’s a starting guideline which is where the second part of the design thinking definition comes in. It’s a six-step process to help people apply this strategic thinking. Given this definition, you can apply design thinking in many ways, some simpler than you think.
It almost sounds too easy, but shifting your team’s mindset to be user- and human-centered is a start. You can do this by making an empathy map with your team or involving others in research. The goal is to understand the true need of your users and how your solution is going to fit into their world. A defining characteristic of design thinking is focusing on the problem at hand before considering the wide range of potential solutions. Define and align on this problem before you even dive into solutions.
When doing this, you want to work in a collaborative, democratic way. You can do this by dot voting to make decisions, diverging then converging thought streams, and weighing opportunities on a matrix using criteria important to the business and user.
From there, start to play with the basics as you get more comfortable. You can begin to expand your practice, applying design thinking methods in a dynamic, non-linear way. Try facilitating a workshop pulling in other experts to your process and collaboratively involving users throughout that product development cycle.
My parting advice: be willing to think dynamically. Apply what you need as you need it. Document what works for your team and iterate from there. We should be designing our process as much as we design our end product.