How Design Thinking differs from other problem solving approaches

Fall in love with the problem

Few months back, I learnt the founders of Airbnb mostly rent out their space to airbnb guest and also stay in other hosts’ spaces. Throughout the company employees are encouraged and incentivised to rent out their spaces and also travel and serve as guest at other spaces.

This is done to onboard them into the first phase of effective problem solving, which is Understanding the Problem, and laying foundation of designing a great product.

Hence, this brings me to the question, “What is the biggest difference that sets Design Thinking apart for other approaches?” And the answer is the word ‘EMPATHY’.

Empathy is simply defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We generally think of empathy as being a nice thing, something that caring people do to help others, but there’s more to it. It is also about embedding yourself in the other person’s point of view. Seeing a situation or problem from their perspective.

Still on the Airbnb example, during the founding days of the company, Brian Chesky (CEO) and his co-founders went door-to-door, meeting Airbnb hosts in person, taking photographs of their space, speaking with them and learning what they did and didn’t like about the product. In his words, “If I want to make something amazing for you, I just spend time with you.”

One of the core principles of design thinking is its focus on human values at every stage of the process and empathy for the people for whom you’re designing is fundamental to this process. Design thinking is deeply rooted in empathy, where you try to see from the perspective of a user of a given design or product.

The Agile Methodology in software engineering is also iterative, adaptive and uses continuous feedback and engagement. However, there is no empathy in agile development process.

In agile methodology, during problem definition and requirements gathering, instead of asking ‘why’ , we ask ‘what’. For example, we need to create a dashboard visualisation tool for a demography of users. In Agile, we ask the user what they want, then compile a list of deliverables and deliver those features to the user. With design thinking, we do ask what the user requires in the product, but we also walk through the user’s current journey, find out which triggers invoke the problem, why they need the product, how they are currently solving the problem, etc. All these immerse we the designers into the problem and open our minds to really determine the goal of our solution.

“It is really hard to design something for someone if you don’t have empathy”.

Empathy is the starting point for innovation. Design thinking starts with the needs of individuals because designing for individual needs often leads to greater insights and inspiration. The best solutions come out of the best insights into human behaviour when we understand and can predict the actions of the humans we’re designing for.

There is a lot more to design thinking than this, but in a nutshell it is about human-centered design where Empathy is King.