Ultimate Guide To Learn Design Thinking7 mins - Introduction
The history of this term dates back to the 1900s when this term was first used by John E. Arnold in 1959, in his book ‘Creative Engineering’ and later by L. Bruce Archer in 1965, in his book ‘Systematic Methods for Designers’. Both these authors were the first ones to acknowledge the existence of a concept called design thinking and write about it from their respective perspectives.
Today, after decades of researches and studies, the application of this concept is very popular among businesses, educational facilities and computer science industries. Leading businesses and brands, such as Google and Apple, have been using the design thinking approach and the concept is also being offered as a course at leading higher educational institutions including Harvard, MIT and Stanford. However, it is important to note that design thinking is essentially applicable to everybody in every aspect of life and encompasses many diverse fields. (This article will have its focus tilted slightly towards its application in the business field).
Let us now fully understand the concept of design thinking and its principles, to perhaps increase your chances of being a design thinker, because knowledge about this intriguing subject will help in cultivating genuine interest and effort in its purest forms!
What Exactly Is Design Thinking?
‘Design Thinking’ is a problem-solving approach involving an iterative process in which the design thinker seeks to understand the user comprehensively, challenge available assumptions & redefine problems at hand with the aim of deriving alternative solutions and strategies that may not be ‘visible’ with our previous approach and related thinking capabilities. Design thinkers use solution-based ‘way of thinking’ while solving problems innovatively; innovation is key during this entire process.
The process indulges the designers in developing a clear and deep understanding of their target users (those people that will be targeted with your services or products) which ultimately gives birth to empathy-a quality that allows designers to come up with relevant and feasible solutions.
As defined by the CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown, “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.”
To put it out more simply and generally, the term refers to the practical, cognitive and strategic processes that are used by design teams and/or individual thinkers in the development of ‘design concepts’ (proposals for existing and new products, services, machines and buildings, etcetera).
The Phases of Design Thinking
Many versions of the Design Thinking process are in use in this modern era, with some 3 to 7 phases, modes or stages. We will be briefing you about the model of this process that was proposed by one of the leading teachers and applicants of design thinking Stanford’s ‘Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design’. The aforementioned model comprises of 5 phases which are mentioned below.
— Empathize; with target users.
— Define; their needs, problems and your intuitions about them.
— Ideate; by questioning & challenging normal assumptions and coming up with ideas for ‘innovative solutions’.
— Prototype; to indulge in the creation of solutions.
— Test; the proposed solutions.
Remember: It is very important to not consider these stages (or other variants) of design thinking to be sequential; the process we are discussing does not necessarily have to work step-by-step to yield relevant results. These phases do not occur orderly and can occur in a parallel fashion and even repeat (iteratively).
How Is Design Thinking Different?
Trying to understand the difference is quite simple after having read what the term means, its principles and the stages involved. The difference lies majorly in the patterns of thinking.
Normal patterns of human thinking are naturally based on frequently accessed knowledge and repetitive activities. Both of these assist humans by aiding quick application of the same knowledge and actions in familiar or similar situations. But the drawback here is that they restrict our minds from easily and quickly developing alternative and innovative ways of understanding & solving problems. Such ingrained patterns of thinking are usually known as ‘schemas’. Schemas are ‘preset’ organized sets of relationships and information between thoughts, things and actions and are initiated in our minds whenever an environmental stimuli is encountered. This stimulation is automatic and can, hence, prevent us from viewing situations with a more innovative approach and developing new problem-solving strategies whenever need be.
This is how a design thinking approach is different from ingrained thinking patterns.
Outside the Box Thinking
Design Thinking is also called ‘outside the box’ thinking because designers are constantly attempting and looking for new and alternate ways of thinking that do not classify among common and mainstream problem-solving methods.
We know by now that the core principles of design thinking revolve around designers being customer-focused (human-centered); thinking about improving products by analyzing & understanding the interactions between products and target users as well as investigating and questioning their operating conditions and assumptions.
One major element, however, of this outside the box thinking approach is the designer’s ability to falsify prior assumptions and dig deeper into the problem at hand by carrying out extensive & relevant research, viewing the problem from every angle and experimenting (prototypes and testing). The results and conclusions derived from the questioning and investigating phases coupled with others will direct a thinker towards generating innovative solutions that will help in improving designs, products or services.
A Great Example of Design Thinking Success: Oral-B/Braun Smart Toothbrush
When founders, Kim Colin & Sam Hecht, of the agency ‘Industrial Facility’, were given the task of creating a ‘smarter’ toothbrush, they were suggested two client ideas: brushes that tracked ‘brushing performance’ and those that played music. Now this approach, the two designers thought, was not addressing the customers’ experience in an empathetic manner.
Instead of going with the two presented idea, Kim and Sam identified two key issues faced by most users, solved and marketed them as the new value-added (very rightly so!) features of the toothbrush-ordering new brushes and charging the ‘smart’ device. Their smart toothbrush turned out to be a product customers actually valued because it solved their problems.
This inspirational project is a very simple, yet perfect example of design thinking that helps in understanding what the concept is all about in its practical form. It shows that only serving briefs isn’t going to add value to your end product/service/design. You need to go beyond it, be empathetic towards your end users & put them first. It’s all about addressing issues innovatively, thinking outside the box and not confining your creativity!