Thinking About ‘Design Thinking’?

If you’re in a position that leads or supports the development of new products, services, experiences or processes you have probably come across the term ‘Design Thinking.’ While not new, the term and the approach seem to be experiencing a resurgence.  Want help implementing Design Thinking? There’s an entire ecosystem of consultants, courses and books to help you, but you can adopt the key mindsets with just a little exploration of the basics and I’d encourage you to do so.

What Is Design Thinking?

The field is mature enough that there are actually various definitions but Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO and the author of Design Thinking frames it this way:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

If the definition above ‘speaks’ to you – use it. The smart folks at IDEO are designers. They know their “toolkit” – you, your team and your organization may not. I personally prefer the definition used by the Interaction Design Foundation:

“Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding.”

But enough with the definitions. Ultimately, they don’t matter.  Below are the fundamental steps of Design Thinking. If you’re already doing this, you are, in fact, using Design Thinking. If these steps make sense but you’re not doing them – it’s time to get started.

  • EMPATHIZE – Know your users/customers. If you’re not talking to them you’re doing it wrong!
  • DEFINE – Spend time framing your challenge. How the challenge is framed directly impacts the potential solutions that will emerge.
  • IDEATE – Generate ideas – lots of them. Be fearless. Push boundaries. Have fun.
  • PROTOTYPE – Narrow your focus to a small set of ideas with the highest potential based on assumptions informed by your customer empathy efforts and then build prototypes that are just sophisticated enough to gather feedback through testing.
  • TEST – Break out of your internal debates and put prototypes in front of representative customers – their opinion should guide your efforts.

“But I’m Not a Designer”

In our experience, clients are often quick to note that they are not “designers” and, frankly, the industry might be guilty of encouraging this point of view. But are you a “thinker?”  That’s what this is. Hopefully the steps above strike you as ‘common sense’ – because they are!

Your innovation efforts will improve even with imperfect efforts at following the Design Thinking process. Don’t let fear or self-deprecation stop you from trying.  I encourage you to take a shot. Learn. Repeat and improve. Of course, if you don’t have the time or the inclination to take this journey on your own Clearworks is here to help! We can conduct immersive training sessions on Design Thinking principles, facilitate Design Thinking based ideation sessions, plan and execute customer empathy research, develop and test prototypes and more.

Want to know more about Design Thinking or discuss how Clearworks can help you in your efforts? Feel free to contact me at chuck@clearworks.net.

Chuck Mallory
chuck@clearworks.net

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