Design thinking is nothing without design doing

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So you’ve just come along to a design thinking crash course, or perhaps you’ve just watched an inspiring video or some blog posts about design thinking. You’re all excited about the potential of design thinking and keen to try it in your organisation. You walk into work the next day, and…. it’s business as usual. A few people might politely ask you about the course or listen as you share your new ideas, but then they get back to doing their work in the way they’ve always done it.

While there’s no doubt that it’s easier to apply a design thinking approach in your organisation when there’s a shared language and commitment from the team members, that’s often not how it works in practice. Here are six tips to help you apply design thinking back at work and get buy in from your colleagues.

1. Focus on the principles and mindset of design thinking rather than the process.

Remember that design thinking is as much a mindset that it is a process, so regularly try to ask yourself ‘how can I approach this challenge/task/problem with the mindset of a designer?’.

Remain mindful of the design thinking principles — showing rather than telling; collaborating; embracing experimentation; empathy for users; bias toward action — and seek to integrate these no matter where you are in your project.

2. Use ‘why’ questions?

One of the simplest things you can do to get in the mindset of a designer is to start asking ‘why?’. Not in an annoying toddler kind of way, but with the intent of drawing out the deeper motivations and needs behind what people say and do, and unpacking the assumptions that may have been made in defining problems and selecting solutions.

3. Start by using design thinking as a ingredient in a small part of a larger project.

Unlike some other project management methodologies, design thinking doesn’t need to be applied to an entire project or from the start of a project. You can start small with design thinking and apply it from wherever you are now. Start with the parts of the project that you have control or influence over. Every time you organise a meeting or write a report you can consider the design principles in what you do.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do” ~ John Wooden

4. Tool up.

Learn about some different design thinking tools and techniques (the fox design bootcamp guide is a great resource — it’s like a design thinking ‘cook book’), and then try to find ways to apply these techniques in mini-experiments.

As well as learning about different techniques it’s a good idea to gather some physical tools. Put together a pencil case with a couple of sharpies, whiteboard markers and post-it notes and start carrying it with you to meetings. You may also want to gather some basic prototyping supplies (raiding your recycling bin and the office stationary cupboard is a good place to start) so that you can quickly make low-resolution prototypes.

5. Find a buddy.

This may be a colleague who came along to the design thinking workshop, or someone in your workplace who you think ‘gets’ this way of working. Partner up to interview users and test solutions, bounce ideas of each other, and support each other in those times when you’re feeling a bit lost, burned out or frustrated with your progress.

Can’t find a buddy at work? Then connect up with someone outside your organisation. You may not be able to work on projects together, but you can still share tips and ideas and be a source of support for one another.

6. Practice guerrilla design thinking.

Don’t waste time trying to explain to your colleagues what design thinking is, instead focus on finding opportunities (no matter how small) to do design thinking without ‘permission’ and demonstrate its power in a simple way.

What challenges have you faced when trying to apply design thinking at work? Do you have any other tips for overcoming them?

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