What is Design Thinking Anyway?

In early 2017 the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Fine Arts was gearing up for something new. The School of Design and Creative Technologies launched for the fall semester, a year after the college added two new degree plans and opened up a space in the Fine Arts Library for technology in design fields. As technology and creative industries merge through AI, arts technology, gaming, entertainment, and even computer science, the new school will bridge the gap between backend development of creative solutions to real-world customer challenges.

Jan Ryan, a serial entrepreneur focused on helping students in the new school create a trajectory from college to career through creative design thinking, leads the school’s team. According to Jan, creativity is not just a fixed trait limited to artistic endeavors. Creativity is just as important as education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status. Jan focuses on helping students nurture their creative nature and turn that skill into a marketable talent. Here are a few key takeaways from Jan’s Ignite Startup Workshop; the full recording will be available on the HKC YouTube soon!

What is “Design Thinking?” Design thinking is a verb — a new way of thinking that starts with empathy and the human need for solutions to existing challenges and pain points.

The customer’s voice is the only one that matters

When designing a solution, it’s key to ask not only what the problem is, but WHO are you solving the problem for. Customer focus is essential to success. Don’t just build the first thing that comes to your mind — you must test solutions and understand that a customer’s experience is more important than an existing approach to the challenge or what you think is best. It’s more about solving their problem than out-doing a competitor when it comes to designing a new or evolving solution.

The new world of innovation consists of spending most of your time learning about a problem, becoming totally familiar with it so that you can design the best-fit solution. When you have the right solution, you spend less time “shouting” about it.

Four Core Ideas of Design Thinking

  1. Includes phases of divergent and convergent thinking — look both outward and inward when analyzing the challenge
  2. Rooted in human empathy — observe, engage, question and think ahead
  3. Multi-disciplinary — merging of collaborators with diverse strengths and experiences
  4. Iterative prototyping and making — visual thinking including making models to “unpack” the complexity of the problem

How do you know your idea is the right one?

Follow the process for design thinking. Empathize deeply with your customers to develop true understanding and define clearly the problem you need to solve. Then ideate, prototype and test your solution. Too often, innovators run into a market without adequate testing — they often fail. You may need to adjust the solution after testing; don’t be afraid to revise.

Your value is defined by your customers. Build your early-adopter personas so that you know who you are helping and can develop the best plan to actually reach them. Find them (or get found by them) so that you can ramp up traction. Psychographics (how your customers think) will become more important than demographics. The more you know about them, how they think, and what they feel, the more precise your target, the higher the adoption rate and the faster you scale.

Human-centered design hinges on blending business, technology and empathy. Want to learn more? Check out the Design Reader from UT’s School of Design and Creative Technologies.