How to become a design thinking advocate (Part 2)
The Process of design
In Part 1, we introduced some simple activities and pointers to help you apply design thinking methods within your own work. However, design thinking is more than just a random collection of activities. This week, we focus on divergent and convergent thinking and how you can develop your own process based on the “Double Diamond”.
At its core, design thinking is a particular method and process to guide us in discovering and responding to problems and challenges. More importantly, it distinguishes itself from other approaches by leveraging the techniques that designers have practiced for decades. And you don’t have to be a designer to use it! There is a structure and method to the madness of creativity and ideation towards problem-finding and resolution.
Over the decades, many models have emerged to describe the design process. One of my favourites is the Double Diamond, developed by the UK Design Council in 2005.
These diamonds are the perfect graphic metaphor for one of the key principles within any good design and innovation process: divergent and convergent thinking. They are applied in succession to not only help develop a solution, but to also be deliberate about exploring the problem space and defining the challenges we want to resolve.
We start from a point: the problem. This is our initial idea or inspiration. The first inkling that there is a problem or opportunity worth tackling. This might show up as a problem presented by a client or your boss. Or maybe it is something you feel strongly about.
Our first task is to develop a more comprehensive understanding of our problem. We want to develop further, broader insight that tells us more about our problem space and what is going on here. This is the beginning of our diamond as the lines diverge — applying divergent thinking to purposefully explore to the edges and limits of the issue at hand.
In this first diamond, we deliberately avoid the temptation to develop solutions. Instead, we keep ourselves focused on fully exploring the problem space without being limited by preconceived solutions. Our renewed understanding of the problem will be our inspiration.
Interviews are the simplest and most powerful way to learn. Talking to people allows you to learn from them, and understand the challenge in the context of someone’s life. Consider secondary research as well! Especially if what you are tackling is a well-researched field, there is a lot to be learnt from published expert opinions, such as academic papers.
(Note: Remember that users are not the only folks key to a solution! Consider the context in which your solution would need to exist. Are there other teams, companies, business considerations etc that need to be considered? Those need to be researched as well.)
After exploring the full breadth of possibilities and developing a deep understanding of the problem and the needs of the various stakeholders, we need to translate our learnings into a clear problem definition — or something I like to call a design brief. This is where we converge, narrowing and focusing our attention after the broad exploration from before.
We start by first making our research useful via synthesis. We want to translate the varied learnings into clear insights that can drive our problem-defining and solution-finding.
A great first step is this research “download” technique — throw everything up on a wall with Post-Its, and then visually organize them into themes. From there, you can pick any number of techniques that best fits the type of data you have, including the following:
Journey Map — This is one of my favourite methods to translate interviews, conversation and anecdotes into a useful design tool. Depending on what you are working on, you can also include any other types of information that might be useful to you. By visually mapping out someone’s experience and journey, it makes identifying opportunities incredibly easy.
Design Principles — One of the most powerful uses of research, is when our learnings constrain our solution. Design Principles help do that by crystallizing the patterns, themes and “out-of-bound” zones.
With a clear understanding of our problem space, we shift gears to a focus on finding the opportunities. What should we focus on? We mesh our learnings with business needs/objectives, and find the areas of alignment.
Reframe — How could we see the challenge and problem differently? What if we were to re-contextualize it? What difference would that make? This is a great tool to force a change in perspective.
How Might We — One of my absolute favourite tools. Use it to craft opportunity statements, which you can eventually narrow to a single pick.
From this single “How Might We” statement, flesh it out with more detail. We want a specific problem definition: describing the problem to be solved, the desired outcome and the insights and learnings that have driven our decision-making process This document will be key for everything else.
And now we are at the end of our first diamond!
Now that we’ve clearly identified our problem, supported by robust research and insight, we can start exploring solutions! Like before, we start with a diverge to rapidly explore and discover as many unique solutions as possible. The quality of the ideas matters not: instead, we favour the variety, quantity and uniqueness of the ideas. This gives us the foundation to build upon later to refine, narrow and iterate on select ideas we could potentially launch.
The activities in this phase are a little zany, a little crazy but incredibly fun. I’ll guarantee you’ll get a good laugh out of these.
Analogous Inspiration — How have other folks in a radically different context solved a similar challenge?
Crazy Eights — An incredibly fun activity for rapid ideation. Use this to very quickly explore a wide variety of solutions, which you can later pick and choose from.
Mash Ups — We sometimes like to call this “What would Mother do?” What if you mashed up two completely different concepts/contexts together? How might they address the problem in completely unexpected ways?
Once again, at the peak of the diverge we can begin narrowing to converge on a specific idea. We select the one (or small set) of ideas that have the greatest potential and alignment with our problem definition. And we work to refine, iterate, test and learn! This constant process of refinement brings us ever closer to the solution.
A great first step is the classic “Dotmocracy”, also known as the KJ Method. It is a great technique to shift through all the ideas you have come up with and triage them. Which ones work, which ones don’t? Which ones are more viable than others? Put each group or idea against your problem definition from earlier. How well does this resolve our stated problem?
Once we have an identified solution or approach, it’s time to dive into the details.
Rapid Prototyping — Prototypes are great ways to experiment and explore ideas tangibly and putting them into the hands of real people.
Business Model Canvas — Good ideas don’t just exist in a vacuum. They exist within a context and also face economic realities, such as being self-sustainable or even profitable. The Business Model Canvas is a great way to explore some of those aspects.
Guerilla User Testing — It is incredibly important to break out of our bubble, and get feedback on our ideas. Guerilla User Testing is a quick and dirty way of rapidly getting insight into the decisions we have made. Take the learnings and iterate again!
When you feel you have addressed the problem definition you identified at the end of the first diamond to your satisfaction — or more likely, you’ve run out of time! — you have arrived at your solution!
Applying all of this can be as simple or complex, quick or time-consuming as you want it to be. I have moved through the entire loop within 30 minutes for a very specific, well-worn problem that I needed a new perspective on, and I have spent 4 months and more for large-scale, strategic design exercises for complex organizations.
Have fun experimenting and figuring out what works best for you! Like any skill, the more you do it, the more confident you will become & the more natural this process will feel. More importantly, take the various methods, exercises and techniques and tailor them to your needs. That’s when the process really becomes your own!
Every designer, design studio, agency, creative etc. will have their own unique design process and philosophy. But at an abstract level, most of them will align with the Double Diamond model, perhaps with differences in application or specific methods. So if you have started utilizing different design thinking activities, consider how they fit within the process. This process is the real secret behind the buzz of “design thinking”.
The third and final part of this series will dive into how you can make design thinking part of your daily routine and provide you with some useful, hands-on tips on how to start spreading the “design thinking bug” amongst your own team to kickstart positive change within your organization.