A New Perspective: How Design Thinking is Changing How We Approach Problems
Insight from Nicholas Stuart
In today’s modern economy, businesses are utilizing every possible resource to maintain a cutting-edge lead against the competition. No matter the industry, underlying goal is always the same: To innovate. To use new methods and ideas to make their next product or service exponentially better than the last. But how do companies innovate? An increasing number of companies and individuals are turning to design thinking for their problem-solving woes. Design thinking is a systematic thought processes that encourages the development of innovative solutions by focusing on a human centered approach. The Stanford School of Design breaks down this process into five simple steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Each step of the process is designed to make creators look at a problem through multiple perspectives and keep an open mind to arrive at a plausible solution.
Step One: Empathize
Find out how well your target audience is acquainted with the problem. By conducting interviews, studies, and role playing, creators can get a better perspective of the problem. What do they do now to solve it? What are some interesting facts you learned from them? Your goal here is to get a holistic view of an issue from your user’s point of view. Remember that the principal of the design thinking process is to create a human centered solution to your problem.
Step Two: Define
Once you have gotten a clearer idea of what a problem is, who it may affect, and why it exists, you can begin to convey the problem to others. The defining process is about creating a problem statement that guides an open discussion about the problem. One important aspect of the defining phase is to never be limiting. By carefully defining the problem in a way that doesn’t eliminate any possibilities, the next step can spur far greater creative thought.
Step Three: Ideate
This is where the fun begins. Ideation is a phase full of brainstorming where no idea is too big or small. By rapidly thinking about and recording potential solutions, designers can build a diverse list of avenues to reach their goal. The importance of empathy cannot be understated here. Because you have a better understanding of your target audience or end users, you can begin to put on different ‘hats’ and think up solutions that you may not have thought of through your own experiences.
Step Four: Prototype
If you’re familiar with the ideologies of Silicon Valley, you may be familiar with “failing fast.” Assuming you or your team have compiled dozens of potential solutions through ideation, you may be wondering which are plausible. Prototyping is all about rapidly creating “rough drafts” of your solution and iterating them until one works. These models don’t have to be pretty, and they may not actually work at all. What’s important is that many solutions are brought as close to reality as possible so that road blocks and questions can be quickly identified and recorded.
Final Step: Test
Put your prototype through many different scenarios, use different materials, or solicit feedback from your target audience. The testing phase will ultimately prove whether your empathizing was effective. Did your prototype partially or completely solve the problem? Maybe not. But a failure is just one step closer to the solution. Typically steps four and five are consistently repeated until a solution is identified.
Design thinking is often thought of as a tool kit for innovation. It is a set of steps that help take a big challenge and pick it apart until you can understand the core issues and find a solution. It helps creative thinkers let go of biases, embrace failure, challenge assumptions, and find a closer market fit. There are several variations of the design thinking method, but the overall process remains the same. If you’re looking for a new way to tackle a problem, big or small, give the process a try and see how your perspective changes.