What I learned from a Saturday afternoon Design Thinking workshop.

Last Saturday our graduate class met to put ourselves and our ideas for a collaborative platform through the paces of a design thinking workshop. Were we successful? I think to measure our success I needed to better understand what design thinking is and why it is important as a creative tool. So what is design thinking? Design Thinking’s origins begin in 1973 ­­with Robert McKim when he wrote Experiences in Visual Thinking. From 1980 to 1990 Rolf Faste expanded on McKim’s work while at Stanford University teaching “design thinking as a method of creative action.” Then in 1991 Design thinking was adapted for business purposes by Faste’s Stanford colleague David M. Kelley, who founded IDEO.

So what is Design Thinking?

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business 
success.” — Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO

Okay, So… what does that mean exactly?

Design thinking is method for practical, creative resolution of problems. It is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking starting with a goal instead of solving a specific problem. Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a process which includes the “building up” of ideas, with few, or no, limits. Design thinking employs divergent thinking as a way to ensure that as many possible solutions are explored in the first instance. Then convergent thinking is employed as a way to narrow these down to a final solution.

Design Thinking: Methods and Process

  1. Understand: Immerse yourself in learning, talk to experts.
  2. Observe: Watch how people behave & interact in their space, empathize.
  3. Define: Focus on becoming aware of peoples needs, User + Need = Insight.
  4. Ideate: Brainstorm and suspend judgment. No idea is to far-fetched.
  5. Prototype: Create rough and rapid sketches or models used to convey an idea.
  6. Test: Learn what works and what doesn’t, and then iterate.

So… why is Design Thinking important?

The increasing complexity of modern technology in modern business is creating a shift in large organizations, one that puts design much closer to the center of the enterprise. Companies like Ideo are taking the principals that we are learning here in our graduate program and applies them to fields across the spectrum, with great success and businesses have taken notice.

November 16 2015, IBM announced they are hiring 1,100 designers across the company by year-end, on a path to employing 1,500. The goal is to have their methods infuse every aspect of how IBM does business. I would say that is some pretty definitive proof that there is some merit in what the design thinking process can accomplish.

So were we successful?

Once we were done with running the design thinking gauntlet, I felt the question was not “were we successful?” so much as, “was the process of design thinking helpful in getting us closer to our design goals?” I would have to say with out a doubt yes. I felt was very helpful, it allowed us the space and freedom to collaborate on decisions and arrive at solutions that I do not think we would have arrived at individually while sitting in front of a laptop. I think it also forced our hands/minds to visualize in new ways. I felt we were able to cut very quickly to what mattered by asking ourselves to focus on our users needs. We found ourselves asking questions like, “what does the user of this platform really need in order to collaborate effectively?” “does this solution accomplish this?”, “how does it work?”, “Is this component necessary?”. In the end I think our team was really impressed with ourselves and the results of the process. I think we also felt really good about our solutions, as they were ones that we all had a part in creating.

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