Connections and Creating Value from Design Thinking

Machine learning is an extremely exciting topic with many uses in our everyday lives. However many of these uses might not be extremely obvious when we learn the technical implementation of our machine learning algorithms. While we invest ourselves in interesting projects and experiments, we can loose track of creating systems to help the world. This is where a focus on the Design Thinking can be extremely helpful. Making human connections to understand how to create value is vital to creating a useful product.

The project I’ve been working on has been focused on computer vision, but before using the Design Thinking strategies of connecting with customers and creating value there was no known direction for the project. Before connecting with customers, the only idea we knew for our project was that there might have been some commercial or government uses for computer vision. After we connected with customers and created a portfolio of their needs, we could come up with a specific product that would be needed by many consumers, potentially in different areas.

To come up with this specific product, we had to understand the connections we made, and dig into our newfound understanding to find what would create value for consumers by satisfying their needs. This process forced us to look at the similarities of all the human connections we made and figure out which needs were most pressing and common. With this, we were able to focus our project scope from machine learning to face recognition and facial categorization. From this more narrow scope, we are now able to investigate the necessary techniques to actually create an application to give these wanted features.

With our knowledge of machine learning, it is easy to create simple projects that display our knowledge and competence. Unfortunately, the simple projects we come up with often only serve as tokens of what we could do if we knew what we should be working on. Our design thinking experience has showed that it is a valuable tool to take our open ended abilities and knowledge of a subject like machine learning and turn them into specific systems to serve customers and solve their needs.

Experiences like these can show us why design thinking can be extremely necessary in our engineering disciplines. With our technical knowledge and ability to create products, we often forget about customer needs and this focus on design thinking can remind us of what should be our focus; creating products and systems to help people.