“Design thinking is a human-centered innovation process that emphasizes observation, collaboration, fast learning, visualization, and rough prototyping. The objective is to solve not only the stated problem at hand, but the real problems behind the obvious.”
So what is design thinking?
There are many definitions of design thinking, but to be honest they are all pretty much the same. That’s because design thinking itself is an open, shared, and co-developed concept. So let’s not get wrapped up in semantics. According to Wikipedia:
Design thinking refers to creative strategies designers utilize during the process of designing. It is also an approach that can be used to consider issues, with a means to help resolve these issues, more broadly than within professional design practice and has been applied in business as well as social issues. Design thinking in business uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.
In our book, Innovation By Design, Thomas Lockwood and I conducted an in-depth study of 21 of the most innovative organizations in the world. As a result of our research, we identified 10 attributes they all share and that they use to leverage design thinking to produce change, drive new ideas, and deliver meaningful solutions.
As Thomas points out in his book Design Thinking, there are several key tenets that appear to be common in design thinking, and that we found consistently present in our design thinking organizations.
Identifying the right problem and understanding the user
The first tenet is a quest to identify the right problem to solve, coupled with a deep understanding of the user. This is achieved through:
- fieldwork and research,
- an empathetic approach to discovering stated plus unarticulated user needs, and
- open inquiry.
Rather than adding the dilemmas of missing the mark in understanding consumers’ wants and needs, taking the approach of design thinking makes understanding the problem and the desired outcome all that much more focused and faster.
“The key is to start from a seeking to understand point of view”
Empathy coupled with collaboration
Empathy coupled with collaboration is the second tenet of design thinking. This applies to both the users and through the forming of multidisciplinary teams. In collaboration, constraints can be removed and great ideas can emerge. This helps to move an organization past silos and toward radical collaboration, rather than incremental improvement, thereby moving faster toward the creation and delivery of the right solution, a valued solution.
The third tenet is accelerating learning through hands-on experimenting, visualization, and creating quick rough prototypes, which are made as simple as possible in order to get usable feedback. Because design thinking is effective in radical problem-solving as well as incremental improvement, the more experimentation the better.
The quick and simple prototypes also help grasp a potential implementation well before resources are spent in development. Often the goal is to fail quickly and frequently so that learning can occur. Prototypes can be sketches, rough physical mock-ups, stories, role-playing, concept storyboards—anything to help make the intangible more tangible. In a world in which shorter and abbreviated written messaging, visual cues, and emotional storytelling are overtaking written forms of communication, visualization has become a primary tool in the engagement of innovative thinking.
Integrating business model innovation
Thomas Lockwood is a big advocate of integrating business model innovation during the process of design thinking, rather than adding later or using it to limit creative ideations.
It’s a delicate balance, but also one of the attributes of effective design thinking organizations. That is, they are able to integrate thinking by combining the creative ideas with business aspects, including the three Ps (people, planet and profit), in order to learn from a more complex and diverse point of view. This is also helpful in anticipating what new business activities and the resources that may be required in the implementation of a new product, service, or experience initiative.
Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org