We hear the term “Design Thinking” for the first time and we immediately think that it’s something that can only be used by designers. Since many of our job roles have nothing to do with design, what use is design thinking to us?
First of all, we have to redefine what a designer is. A designer is a person who faces a problem, individually or as part of a group, and is able to solve it applying creative, technology, and data-led solutions.
Under this definition, many more of us identify as designers. We all face problems everyday that we have to solve and overcome. It is this design mentality that makes us designers and gives us what it takes to use the Design Thinking methodology in our job.
But, what is Design Thinking exactly?
IDEO, one of the most important companies in the development of the methodology and its implementation outside the traditional boundaries of design, defines it this way:
“Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving.”
This process leads us to focus on the user we are trying to help, to constantly question our preconceptions and hypothesis, to search alternatives based on facts and data we collect, and foster test, learn and iteration approach as a main pillar of our product journey.
This methodology offers a non-linear process in which we can go from one stage to another, but we can always get back to previous stages if we discover something new that threatens our solution.
This way, the process we follow is both agile and iterative, and it pursues a continuous improvement of the solution based on objective data that we collect directly from our end users.
What is the Design Thinking process?
Design Thinking gives us the flexibility to iterate and outline our potential solution, while we test it or collect data from our real users. In fact, one of the benefits we get from using it, is that once we have reached the final step, we can always return to a previous stage to apply all the knowledge we have acquired.
Here are the 5 key steps to using the Design Thinking methodology:
The first stage of the process is based on deeply understanding the problem you are trying to solve. By empathizing with the different stakeholders involved, observing the context, and consulting experts on the area, you will get enough data to immerse yourself in the problem and develop a human-centric approach.
This stage is key to understand the different issues that may be involved in the process. Also, you will discover new point of views on the topic, that will allow you to face the challenge from different perspectives.
Even though we all suffer from time constraints, it is crucial to spend as much time as you may need in this stage. It is a very common mistake to skip or reduce the time you spend on this step, but usually it is here that you get most of the information you may need to solve the problem. Please do not hesitate to stay a little bit longer on this stage if you need it, or even come back again at any point if you feel there’s something you’ve missed out on.
Once you come to this stage you will see how you set aside your preconceptions and your own assumptions, to foster new ideas based on data.
To complete this phase there are different techniques that you may perform, but some of the most important are:
Safari: In this technique we perform observation of the problem in the field to understand the context and the environment of the interaction without interfering in the experience. The goal is to collect and record information about the user journey, the context, the environment, etc.
Mystery shopping: In this technique we pretend to be one of the users that may be involved on the situation. The goal here is to live and experience the problem in first person and acquire an empathetic point of view
User and Expert Interviews: Doing one-on-one interviews with users and experts will reveal issues that we didn’t think of and will throw light on aspects that we may have doubts about.
These are just three of the many techniques that you may use. Feel free to adapt the techniques and use different ones if you think that others may be more suitable to the project needs, according to the circumstances and constraints (time, access to users, cost, etc).
Once you have gained enough data and knowledge about the challenge you are facing, you can now define the problem properly. The goal here is to end up with a problem statement that will function as a point of reference for all the design decisions throughout the project.
The problem statement should be based on the user needs. It should be broad enough to leave space for creativity while being narrow enough to give us a frame in which we can work.
It is really important to have the problem statement well defined from the outset as it will guide and focus us on what we really want to achieve- It will always bring us back to what we are designing and for whom we are really working.
There are many techniques that you may use in this stage, but among the most common and effective ones, you can find:
How Might We…” Technique: This allows us to connect the insights we discovered on the Empathise phase with the idea generation that we will perform at the Ideation stage. The idea is to formulate questions in the form of “How might we…” adding insights we have discovered. For example, “How might we offer new ecofriendly ways of transportation?”
Personas: With this technique we try to create user archetypes that represent the main characteristics of the users we have interviewed or discover in the previous stage. We perform this technique to get a clear focus on the needs and feelings of the users we are designing for.
Empathy Map: This technique is really good to show the different behavioral aspect of the user. Here we will write down what the user thinks, does, says, feels, … often exposing inconsistencies between the sections. It is here that insights may be gleaned and help us create a shared understanding of the real needs of the user.
Once you understand the users, have empathised with them, and defined the problem — you are ready to start generating ideas. This is the most challenging and fun part of the process, since it is here that creativity plays a big role.
Here we enter a divergence-convergence journey. Using multiple techniques, at the beginning we will look for divergence by generating as many ideas as possible to solve the problem. The more the merrier.
We then enter the convergence phase which involves distilling all these ideas into a few solutions that fit the user needs and solves the problem. In this step, it is very important to be very open minded, and accept each and every idea that comes up without judging or deferring. Even when an idea may not fit our needs completely, it might be the spark that ignites our mind to generate a great idea further down the line.
There are numerous techniques that you may use in the ideation phase, for example storyboarding, brainstorming and the speed dating technique. Choose those that you find more suitable to your needs, be bold and don’t be afraid to try new ones in search of richer results.
Now that we have lots of good ideas there are potential solutions to the problem, it´s time to make them real. In this stage we will produce low fidelity versions of the ideas in order to be able to test them in the next stage.
Prototyping an idea usually reveals issues that we didn’t think of, mistakes that we have made, and so on, and may lead us to discover that we have a lack of understanding of some parts of the problem. In this case we may go back to a previous stage to get more data.
When the prototype is ready, test it with people who reflect the target audience. This will help us to discover issues and mistakes that can be fixed and get a new prototype ready to test. This iteration mindset is one of the pillars of Design Thinking, and it will give you the opportunity to refine your product in a quick and reliable way.
And finally, the last stage of the process is testing. After understanding the user and their needs, defining the real problem, coming up with some ideas to solve it and prototyping those solutions, we are ready to take it to the final users in order to proof that our solution makes sense and works.
Showing solutions to real users and observing how they interact with it is always an exciting experience. You will discover that they never act as you expect them to do, and you will always learn new things to add to your solution. Design Thinking is not a linear process, so feel free to navigate back and forth between phases at any time.
Benefits of Design Thinking
Design Thinking is user centric, and it’s always focused on the final user. Their needs, their expectations, their experience and reactions play a central role in the whole process. Paying attention to the user from the very beginning allows you to see the challenge in a very different way and gives you new perspectives on what you are trying to solve. It also opens the door to, collaboration, co-creation processes and embraces empathy as a fundamental value.
The iterative approach also reduces risks, as solutions are based on user data and are continuously tested. there are less chances to make mistakes and discover it after you have invested a lot of time and resources. This iterative approach also allows you to have a MLP (Minimum Lovable Product) quicker and then iterate it to improve it.
Finally, Design Thinking gives you the foundations to solve any challenge that you may have. No matter your previous knowledge or your lack of expertise in the field, you can use Design Thinking to face the challenge.
Francisco de la Fuente, Senior UX Designer, Isobar Spain