The idea that applying the principles of design to strategy and innovation would lead to higher success rates was validated by a 2014 study conducted by the Design Management Institute. Results of the study showed that design-focused businesses like Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, and Procter & Gamble exceeded the performance of most S&P 500 companies by an astounding 219% over the last ten years. This has led to more organizations becoming interested in design thinking – a framework that designers use to solve problems.
When faced with a problem, a person’s first reaction is to solve it. But there are some who question how the problem came about in the first place; believing that doing this will help in the development of a good solution. This is essentially what Design Thinking is about. When the principles of design are adapted to strategy and innovation, the chances of discovering a worthwhile solution dramatically increases.
Understanding the Principles of Design Thinking
From a designer’s viewpoint, Design Thinking is a methodology for finding the best solution to complicated problems. Designers are trained to concentrate on the solution rather than the problem. They are geared more to creating the future they want and to work on making it happen. This process demands that one has intuition, imagination as well as logic and systematic reasoning. These skills help one to explore all possibilities and come up with a solution that will give the end user the most benefits.
For the longest time, most educators and businessmen dismiss the positive impact Design Thinking can bring to their system. But in his book “Designerly Ways of Knowing,” author Nigel Cross explained that “Everything we have around us has been designed.” He also pointed out that design ability is one of the three main aspects of human intelligence.
Aside from design, a person’s cognitive abilities also depend on art and science. Art because it deals with discovering the contrast among similar things while science is all about looking for the similarities among contrasting things. Design then brings together improbable situations or “parts” to develop a solution or build something “whole.”
Advantages of Using the Design Thinking Method
Design Thinking is more than just solving a problem; it’s about finding a better way of doing something. The process assists a person to go beyond conventional means and find a new solution to an old dilemma. More importantly, this process is not just for technology or design-oriented companies. Design Thinking also gives non-profit organizations, government agencies, the financial industry, and the healthcare sector numerous advantages. Here are some of them:
- Users are Given Top Priority
Design Thinking gives end users top priority. The process aims to develop solutions and products that are in-sync with what the user needs. Design Thinking is inherently human-centric, so designers have to get close to the end users to determine how the problem affects them, how to improve their lives and enhance user experience.
- Process Directs Collective Knowledge
Design Thinking involves the creation of multidisciplinary teams and engagement with numerous experts. This helps designers to break out of their own niche and influence collective knowledge and experience. And because different philosophies and skills are involved in Design Thinking, solutions are adaptable and inclusive.
- It Focuses on Empathy
The Design Thinking process revolves around empathy, an ability that allows one to understand how another feels. However the term is used, it requires identifying and understanding the needs and challenges faced by the end user, the experience or the system used.
- Design Thinking Leads to Breakthroughs
“Design, test and repeat” is the philosophy behind Design Thinking. This opens problem solvers to surprising breakthroughs via the quick development of prototypes and generating swift feedback from real users and customers. More importantly, this is achieved before the company wastes a lot of time and money on one solution. The Design Thinking process might not be as straightforward as traditional problem-solving methods, but it does create more interesting and powerful results.
- Crucial Problems are Resolved and Values are Developed
There’s more to Design Thinking than just creating new products and services. It also creates value and finds better solutions to current problems. The process utilizes design principles to solve the different issues present in every industry.
When done correctly, the Design Thinking process captures the interest and demands of the end user. It also provides the designer with the means to explore the opportunities that the clients’ needs will open. The method can also be used as the linchpin of your company’s services and offerings.
5 Steps in the Design Thinking Process
The Design Thinking method is a great way of dealing with problems that have ill-defined or unknown variables. What designers have to do is to understand what people require and then assess the problem in a human-centric way. Afterward, they can begin brainstorming for different ideas and then proceed to build prototypes and test them.
While Design Thinking can be used to solve problems in whatever setting, one has to understand the methodology first. There are different Design Thinking models, each with its process and steps. One of the most commonly used models was developed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute and has five steps – Developing Empathy, Determining the Problem, Generating Ideas, Building Prototypes, and Testing.
- Developing Empathy
The first thing you have to do in Design Thinking is to empathize with your client. Walk a mile in their shoes to better understand the problem you are required to solve. One way to do this is through immersion. You have to literally live with the problem or situation so as to develop a keen understanding of the issue. Another way is to talk with experts and learn more about the problem via observation and engagement to know their motivations, way of thinking and experiences.
Empathy is crucial to a deeply human-centered method like Design Thinking as it lets designers stay in order to have an unbiased understanding of the clients’ needs. As such, this step is where data starts to be gathered. In most cases, the data collected is massive but is vital in the next stage. The gathered information is also used to construct the best understanding of the consumer, their demands and the obstacles that will arise when developing the product.
- Determining the Problem
After enough information has been gathered, the designer can then start determining the problem. The designer will have to evaluate and study the data and arrange them so that it will be easier to identify the key problem. A problem statement should also be developed so that the problem is stated in a human-centric way.
Most companies would think of the problem as one thing they need to do. For instance, businesses might come up with a statement like “We have to enhance the company’s market share among teenage boys by 20 10 percent.” But if one wants to approach this problem using a human-centric approach, they would state it as something like “Teenage boys need nutrient-dense food to grow taller, stay healthy and thrive.”
This step in the Design Thinking process is also where the problem-solving team starts to generate ideas about the uses, features, and other critical aspects that will aid them in solving the dilemma or assisting consumers work out issues with minimal help or challenges. This is also the point where designers start preparing for the third step by constructing questions that can bolster the development of solutions. For instance, the designers might start asking questions like “How can the company encourage teenage boys to take the necessary steps to stay healthy while using our service or product?
- Generating Ideas
Step number three in the design process entails the solutions team ready to generate all kinds of solutions. Using the empathy the team has developed for the client and a clear view of the problem, they can commence generating ideas to either build new solutions or come up with a different means of looking at the problem. At this point, designers are starting to push their creative boundaries to come up with solutions, even unorthodox ones.
Luckily, design teams have a number of idea creation techniques they can use. Some of the more popular ones are Brainstorm, SCAMPER, and Worst Possible Idea. While each one has its advantages and disadvantages, it’s important that the design generates as many ideas or solutions as they can before moving to the next step and building prototypes.
- Building Prototypes
The fourth step in the Design Thinking process is both exhilarating and tiresome. At this stage, the team will be producing several prototypes models of the product. Some of these models might carry specific features that the team can examine. These scaled-down models are usually shared and examined by the company’s design team, by other concerned departments, or by a select group of individuals outside the company.
There’s a lot of experimentation going on at this stage in the process as the designers try to select the optimal solution for the problems determined during the project’s initial stages. These solutions are then tried using the prototypes, analyzed, and are then approved, improved and reevaluated, or rejected. Any rejections done are based on customer feedback and experience.
This stage is vital for designers as it gives them an idea about the product’s limitations and provides them with insights on how consumers will feel, behave and think when handling the product.
- Rigorous Testing
The fifth and last stage of the design process has the team rigorously testing the end product using the solution decided on during the prototype stage. This can be a boring and repetitive process as testing is done many times. The results of the tests are then used to reassess problems and update how consumer’s think, feel, and behave about the product and the conditions the final product is used. The product is still being changed and refined at this stage in order to rule out every problem and develop a better understanding of the consumers and the product.
It should be emphasized that while these five steps were discussed in a linear style, the design procedure is flexible and easy to adapt. For instance, the different steps can be done simultaneously by the design team. Designers can also continue to get information and build prototypes during the whole project so they can keep visualizing each and every roadblock and corresponding solution. Results from the testing stage could also lead to new ideas and start another stage of brainstorming or prototype building.
Design Thinking in a Business Setting
Design Thinking has been proven to be the ideal method for developing unique solutions. Through this method, a business can enact changes and make decisions based on what consumers really want instead of just relying on historical data or taking risks. They can base their actions on tangible proof and not just depend on instinct. This can help the business save money in the long run.
Bear in mind that every enterprise comes with a laundry list of goals, from designing and rolling out new products and services, increasing sales by keeping customers engaged in giving clients improved customer support. However, a lot of time and money are used every time a business, particularly a large corporation tries to meet those goals. Applying the Design Thinking process can help a business save money as it focuses on distinct solutions that customers require. This is done by using various ways of looking at the situation while providing perspective and information that would be utilized when designing a solution.
Government agencies can also benefit in a major way with Design Thinking. For instance, the method has already helped the US Department of Veteran Affairs Center for Innovation in better understanding how veterans interacted with the agency. The different Design Thinking steps revealed the type of obstacles veterans face every time they have to deal with the VA. It also supplied critical insight as to what employees can do to empathize and connect with their customers in order to serve them more effectively.
There’s no denying that Design Thinking is the way of the future. Companies can really satisfy the demands of their clients and find the best solutions to problems using Design Thinking. However, one needs a clear understanding of what this method is and how to use it if one wants to remain on top.
Successful companies are based on five pillars: the ability to reduce time to market, connecting strategy to daily operations, having an environment of continuous improvement, creating an environment of sharing knowledge and drive innovation. Analyse these 5 areas in your organisation right now to find out how close your organisation is from achieving fantastic results.
Design Thinking as an innovation tool
One of the biggest challenges in business is to gain a deep understanding of unfamiliar markets and target groups. Whether I want to dive into a new market or understand the changes of a market that I’m already in, the issue is the same: Users are usually not very good at communicating their needs upfront, they only respond to offerings, and they often do it with criticism. You often only know a product fails when nobody buys it. The reasons are often false assumptions we make in the early stages of product design and development.
Design Thinking came about as a method to address exactly this problem. As a process of systematic creativity for mixed project teams, it focuses on two things: exploration and experimentation. It has become kind of a buzz word and its exact definition is sometimes difficult to grasp. So, let’s start with a quick answer to the question: What is Design Thinking exactly?
The history and nature of Design Thinking
Design Thinking was originally an attempt at describing the thought processes and work methods of modern designers. Its development is closely connected to the product design company IDEO and the design school of the University of Stanford, where many of the senior IDEO designers were (and still are) teaching. During its transition into the wider business world – helped along by Hasso Plattner of SAP and his funding of the design school of the University of Potsdam – it took on many other aspects. The original mindset is still an important issue for many companies that try to change their culture and achieve a more “user-centric” approach to business. At the same time, Design Thinking is often connected to a more open and experimentation-friendly physical space, usually in the form of flexible workshop rooms and open space offices.
At the core of Design Thinking, however, is a method of systematic creativity that incorporated many aspects, principles and tools that were developed in the field of creativity studies (a subset of psychology). Typically, a cross-functional team moves collaboratively in workshop-like settings through a six-step process: Understanding of the challenge; gaining new insights into the users’ motivation; synthesizing these into directions for innovation; generating various ideas on how to address them; building first prototypes; and testing them again with users. This process can take anywhere from around ten days to three months, depending on the scope of the project, the time constraints of the team and the number of iterations.
Incremental and radical innovation
Could Design Thinking be used on a “smaller” scale? Yes, but then elements of the process must be left out. The most time-consuming part of Design Thinking is the exploration of user needs and motivation; but that it also its greatest strength. It makes the method most useful for challenges of radical innovation. Incremental, step-by-step innovation is essentially a form of continuous improvement and should be part of the core business. Radical innovation means leaving the constraints and restrictions of your core business behind to uncover potential for new business models and offerings. You are, in a way, trying to find new potential core businesses. In this uncharted, uncertain and risky environment, Design Thinking can provide a structure for good, effective team work. And it can greatly increase the odds of innovative results.
The strength of Design Thinking
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, users are typically bad at expressing their specific needs. Henry Ford is often credited with saying: “Had I asked my users what they wanted, they would have demanded faster horses.” Whether he actually said it or not, chances are he thought along those lines. As did Steve Jobs and many other great innovators. It is not the user’s job to tell you what you should offer him. But you still need to understand the users’ needs to make them an offer they can’t refuse. Design Thinking provides a way to explore user needs that users might not be aware of themselves. It then connects the exploration to a creative, collaborative process that ends in tangible prototypes that can be tested and verified. The development process doesn’t end there, obviously, and there are many potential obstacles and challenges along the way. Design Thinking can make sure that you don’t start your innovative work heading off in the wrong direction.