Defining: "What is Design Thinking"
Design thinking originally came about as a way of teaching engineers how to approach problems creatively, like designers do. One of the first people to write about design thinking was John E. Arnold, professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University. He wrote “Creative Engineering,” the text that established the four areas of design thinking. From there, design thinking began to evolve as a “way of thinking” in the fields of science and design engineering—as can be seen in Herbert A.
With the rise of human-centered design and the formation of design consultancy IDEO, design thinking became increasingly popular. In the begining of the 21st century, design thinking was making its way into the world of business. In 2005, Stanford University’s d.school began teaching design thinking as an approach to technical and social innovation. Indeed, many of the methods and techniques used in design thinking have been borrowed from the designer’s toolkit. So what exactly is design thinking? Design thinking is both an ideology and a process that seeks to solve complex problems in a user-centric way.
The ideology behind design thinking states that, in order to come up with innovative solutions, one must adopt a designer’s mindset and approach the problem from the user’s perspective. At the same time, design thinking is all about getting hands-on; the aim is to turn your ideas into tangible, testable products or processes as quickly as possible. The design thinking process outlines a series of steps that bring this ideology to life—starting with building empathy for the user, right through to coming up with ideas and turning them into product prototypes.
When it comes to the problems to be solved with design thinking, we’re not just talking about ordinary, common problems that have tried-and-tested solutions. We’re talking about highly complex, “wicked” problems, Not only are these problems difficult to define. But any attempt to solve them is likely to give way to even more problems. Wicked problems are everywhere, ranging from global issues such as climate change and poverty, to challenges that affect almost all businesses such as change management, achieving sustainable growth, or maintaining your competitive edge. Design thinking is an actionable approach which can be used to tackle the world’s wickedest of problems. It fosters user-centricity, creativity, innovation, and out-of-the-box thinking.
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Design Thinking Process
The Design Thinking process can be broken down into five steps or phases: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. Let’s explore each of these in more detail.
- Empathis: Empathy the critical starting phase for Design Thinking. Its all about to know the user and understanding their wants, needs and objectives. This means observing and engaging with people in order to understand them on a psychological and emotional level.
- Define: The second stage in the Design Thinking process is dedicated to defining the problem. You’ll gather all of your findings from the empathise phase and start to make sense of them: what difficulties and barriers are your users?
- Ideate: With a solid understanding of your users problem, it’s time to start working on potential solutions. The third phase in the Design Thinking process is where the creativity happens. Designers will hold ideation sessions in order to come up with as many new angles and ideas as possible. There are many different types of ideation technique that designers might use, from brainstorming and mindmapping to bodystorming and provocation — an extreme lateral-thinking technique.
- Prototype: Is all about experimentation and turning ideas into tangible products. A prototype is basically a scaled-down version of the product which incorporates the potential solutions identified in the previous stages. This step is key in putting each solution to the test and highlighting any constraints and flaws. Throughout the prototype stage, the proposed solutions may be accepted, improved, redesigned or rejected depending on how they fare in prototype form.
- Test: After prototyping comes user testing, but it’s important to note that this is rarely the end of the Design Thinking process. In reality, the results of the testing phase will often lead you back to a previous step, providing the insights you need to redefine the original problem statement.