Everyone wants to be ahead of the game. The world is constantly changing and with it, the ways that we go about business are too.
Design Thinking is a popular method of identifying problems in a business and finding creative ways to solve them. In 2009, Tim Brown wrote the book “Change by Design”, which explained how his company, IDEO, used Design Thinking to help the organisation innovate successfully. Though the Design Thinking method had been around for a while, Brown’s book instigated the widespread use of the term and the concepts around it.
In order to gain a better understanding of Design Thinking and its benefits, we’ve spoken to a collection of design experts who explore its effects and implementation and tell us how you can start applying the methodology to your own business practices.
What is Design Thinking?
‘Design Thinking’ as a term is used quite often, but what does it really mean?
At its most basic level, Design Thinking is, as Shruthi Wooday, Principal UX Designer at OFX, says, the “process of thinking outside of the box to solve a problem. It drives teams to think creatively without the restrictions of available technology, scaling, etc… it focuses on an outside-in approach, where the end-users come first.”
Gaetan Germain, Chapter Lead – Experience Design at Optus tells us that “Design thinking is about looking at situations with the mindset of a designer. Rather than trying to understand the cause of a problem to find the right solution, designers fire a multitude of solutions, observe what works and iterate.”
“At the heart of it”, he says, “Design Thinking is about addressing the right problem. In this approach, empathy and rapid prototyping are critical. The power of data coupled with the ability to create digital solutions, in a fraction of the time previously required, has given an edge to design thinking.”
It can be easy for the uninitiated to confuse ‘Design Thinking’ with ‘Innovation’. However, Agnes Misiurny, Digital Strategist at Cognizant, makes a clear distinction between them as two different things.
“Design Thinking is a framework and approach to Innovation; whereas Innovation is creating new value”, she explains. “Design Thinking applies a set of processes and principles to do and Innovation is human-centric and insight-driven.”
Now, with a clearer understanding of what Design Thinking actually is, Wooday breaks down its core processes and principles for us, as follows;
- “Defining and understanding the problem: This is key because it is how you would solve tricky and complex problems. Defining a good problem statement will enable cross-functional teams to understand the why’s & what’s of that problem. It also helps by showing the impacts in their respective streams.
- Solution-based strategy: With Design Thinking, the exploration stage could open up an array of solutions. This paves the way to a solution-based strategy rather than deriving a strategy based on the problem.
- Quick validation: Design thinking eliminates assumptions quickly by testing and iterating.
- Encourage experimentation: The exploration of ideas and the ability to validate more than one idea opens up the need to experiment. It also eliminates the things that do not work quickly and efficiently.”
The Fundamentals of Putting Design Thinking Into Practice
Once we have established what Design Thinking is, we can look at how it can be used to solve traditional innovation and ideation challenges in 2020.
“The first step in any Design Thinking process is to empathise with all those that will be interacting with the tool, service or interface the process aims to improve,” says Darcy Mangan, Senior User Experience Designer at EY.
In other words, to build empathy with their audience, a design-centric organisation encourages employees to observe behaviours and learn about what customers really want and need. The essence of design thinking is to design for the end-user. Focusing on the consumer in today’s competitive environment is a necessity.
“Typically this will involve activities such as interviews with a lot of open questions, site visits to fully understand the problem at hand and getting access to key business stakeholders and/or customers”, Mangan tells us.
“The key to success is always being cognisant of, and challenging insights and the tools that you are working with. Look at how data may be swayed by the sample size or participants, biases or blind spots, and also avoiding being locked into a certain technology.”
Germain adds – “Design Thinking is particularly effective when applied to challenges where traditional problem-solving has been applied and failed or when an unexpected situation arises,”
“The bigger the challenge, the more Design Thinking can create ground-breaking solutions. Design is about bringing together people with different perspectives and having them collaborate. It is about data and empathy. It is about creating a vision and iterating on the solution.”
But understanding audiences is just one part of the process – for a positive impact, you have to use Design Thinking in the right way.
“Many people think it’s about the ideas”, states Misiurny, “ but it’s about making ideas happen”. “An idea is not good if it doesn’t actually meet the needs of customers. An idea is not good if it doesn’t fit your business strategy. An idea is not good if it will take you 10 years to implement.”
Wooday discusses approaching Design Thinking, “like any development process. It is important to practise Design Thinking in a lean and agile way.”
“There are a lot of institutes and companies who think they incorporate Design Thinking but are still catering to the waterfall ideologies. It then becomes too cumbersome and dated by the time the outcome is commercialised.”
Developing a Design Thinking Mindset in your Organisation
So, How can you incorporate a Design Thinking mindset into your organisation?
“I think all institutes, organisations and companies should utilise Design Thinking over traditional methods,” says Wooday.
“The idea is to find ways and means to stay in touch with the user and keep learning and keep evolving. This is the mindset my team lives by. Just practising methodologies and putting processes in place will get you nowhere. It’s the successful measurable outcomes that matter.”
Germain describes how Optus has put the Design Thinking mindset into action. “At Optus, Design Thinking is evolving into ‘design doing’. It has become a more rapid iterative process where business architects, designers and creative technologists build products based on the customers’ needs.”
“More and more organisations are building a team of Human-Centric Design practitioners as a differentiator. Executives are learning the power of design to disrupt their industries. It is less about how people interact with the product and the aesthetic and more about defining the North Star for the end-to-end experience and signature experiences.”
Misiurny elaborates further. “Design Thinking should be directly tied to your organisation’s strategic KPIs. The process is successful if the solution you propose is proven to affect the KPI tied to the problem you were trying to solve. And if it’s invalidated, then you count the learnings and try again.”
She also talks about how leaders can cultivate this mindset in their teams. “I believe a design thinking culture has to come both from the top and from the bottom. Business leaders must understand the value and implications of the approach. They must also allow room for experimentation and potential failures, as this is how you learn.
“With that being said, Design Thinking can’t be enforced. It must be organically practised to become the norm.”
As Shruthi Wooday says, things have changed so much and technology has taken centre stage. In the modern world, and particularly in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, “it is clear that companies need to learn to adapt, and to adapt quickly.”
Design Thinking revolutionises your innovative processes and increases business opportunities, by giving you the tools to validate and experiment with ideas in a rapid fashion. Adopting the basic principles of Design Thinking, as outlined by Wooday – “the user has a need. ideate, build an MVP, learn, improvise” – will lead to incredible progress for organisations everywhere in 2020 and beyond.
To read more about Design Thinking and how it can benefit your business, check out some of our other articles Design Thinking: What, Why & How and Innovating Customer Experience through a Design-led Approach.