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Design Thinking - Design with People. Not for People.

One of the most powerful business toolkits is found in the principles of "design thinking". As an old graphic designer, I'm a passionate advocate of design thinking and in this post, I'll be giving you a top-level overview of what it is and why you need it in your business.

What is design thinking

Design thinking, in a nutshell, is all about solving problems collectively. You might think you solve problems all the time - and you do. But what if the problem is highly complex involving the expertise or perspective of many stakeholders. What if you need to do it fast? This is where design thinking comes into play. It is a purposeful, designful way of solving any problem collaboratively. And yes. We use a lot of post-its.

Credit: You X Ventures

Why design?

As a designer, I know that anything that is not designed usually ends up an absolute mess. Design makes things beautiful, calmly and in a considered way that can be explained and replicated. For this reason, the principles of design are being seen by businesses as helpful tools to overcome their challenges and effect positive change.

Ultimately that is what design does. It sits between the reality of now and an unknown but imagined future. How you innovate and get to that desired future is through the principles of design. If you use design you can be purposefully every step of the way. You can get their quicker. And you can bring people along with you for the ride.

The traditional way

Traditionally business went through two steps to change themselves. They would know things - e.g. via market data and then they would do something. Like launch a new product to a new section of the market. Know » Do.

It makes sense. We know that there is a gap in the market. We, therefore, will fill it with a product. Then we'd run around interrupting everyone's day to see if they'd like to buy it. They either did. Or they did not.

We know there is a problem with customers not going through to checkout. We'd think of a solution and implement it. Know » Do

The old way either worked or it did not.

The main problem with it is that it uses old information. Data and intelligence is like looking in a rear view mirror. Usually what we know is not current or of the moment. We also sometimes might assume a problem is X and so provide a solution. But really the problem is Y. What if what we know is incorrect? The old way is risky. There is a better way.

The design thinking way

Design thinking adds a step between "Know" and "Do". The step is "Make". This approach means that before you go ahead and do you ensure you really understand the problem and then design solutions collaboratively around it so that by the time you actually get into the "Doing" phase you are confident that the solution is going to improve things and get you to towards the better future you had hoped for.

In the "Make" stage you create rough prototypes, wireframes and sketches. You collaborate with customers and stakeholders. This is done in the moment. It's current and takes into account their up-to-date thinking. You design with people. Not for people. You listen, ensure you have defined the problem correctly and then collate information about how people feel about the potential solution. You can even ideate with them working collaboratively to come up with new, innovative ideas.

The creative process is iterative - meaning that the ideas are developed, tested and then refined a number of times to get to the best solution possible. The weak ideas are dropped in the process.

Design thinking then is a series of frameworks and tools used to test and learn. To try on ideas. If a solution is going to fail, it fails fast. It fails cheap.

It is more messy as a process than what business is used to handling because it is a creative process. It is not always linear. It has to do with customer and stakeholder emotions and beliefs. It tests what you think you know. It brings up surprises.

It is the best approach if you want to innovate.

The double diamond framework

The below is a simple way of explaining how you might go about using design thinking. We call it the double diamond.

It segments the process into four:

  • Discover - You begin by discovering what you "know" about any given problem of challenge. Use this stage to collate qualitative and quantitative information. Have we got the right problem? Have we got to the root of it? This phase uses ‘divergent thinking’.

  • Define - Next you hone in on defining the problem you are going to solve. Out of all the issues discovered which ones will be the most beneficial to solve? Which one will we choose to solve and why? What is realistic to solve? Once you have a problem clearly defined and a clear hypothesis that you can test to see if you've solved it at the end you can move on. This phase uses ‘convergent thinking’.

  • Develop - You then open back out ideas in the Develop stage. What potential solutions could we provide to the problem. Here we would make prototypes - no matter how rough - and test them out. We iterate based on feedback, trial and error. This phase uses ‘divergent thinking’.

  • Deliver - Finally when we were confident in our solution we could then work out ways to go to market with it, honing back down on delivering a final polished solution. Again we'd ensure we test and learn through this whole process too. Then the process begins again. This phase uses ‘convergent thinking’.

This is obviously a very simplified way of showing design thinking as a process. In reality you may jump back and forth. But it shows a powerful framework which, if followed, helps to solve business problems in teams fast using 'design thinking'.

You can complete this type of process on a small issue (why is this broken?) right through to large strategic issues (how should we position our brand). You can do it over months or in short focused "sprints". You can do it with grads or you can do it with the C-suite. You can even do it with customers. It's fun, intense and solutions orientated.

So. I hope you have enjoyed this overview. Good luck in solving those problems and remember - design with people. Not for people.


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