When tackling unprecedented challenges, it is often the case that organizing work in a new way leads to extraordinary results or breakthroughs that were entirely unexpected. As mentioned by the famed physicist Albert Einstein, problems cannot be solved with the same kind of thinking that was used to create them in the first place. In recent years, a number of sectors, including business, social services, health care, and product development, have adopted Design Thinking- a new approach with tools such as ethnographic research, use of diverse teams, and emphasis on new ways of framing the problem and experimentation to tackle the complex challenges of the modern-day businesses. At its heart, design thinking incorporates the design thinking skills to do away with human biases and attachments to particular behavioral and thinking norms that restrict the play of imagination to come up with novel solutions to new problems.
What is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is an iterative but non-linear process that teams can use to understand users, redefine problems, challenge assumptions, formulate innovative solutions, and build prototypes and tests. Design thinking helps come up with alternate strategies to solve problems with solutions that are not apparent with the initial level of understanding. The process offers a solution-based approach and involves different ways of thinking together with a different set of hands-on methods.
At the heart of the design thinking approach is developing a deep understanding of people to whom the technology or solution is being developed. It involves shedding old patterns of thinking and biases to look at problems with a fresh perspective. To do so, the teams must empathize with the target users to understand their needs, then challenge their own assumptions regarding the problem and question the implications. Design thinking is a very effective approach to tackling poorly defined problems or unknown problems by reframing them in human-centric ways. Brainstorming sessions, sketching, prototyping, and testing then follow iteratively to try out the solutions.
5 Stages of Design Thinking
Design thinking consists of 5 stages, according to the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. It is essential to understand that the stages are not always sequential and are often run in parallel by the teams.
Stage 1: Empathize
Empathy towards the users is the foundational step in understanding the problem for which a solution is being formulated. Human-centered design processes cannot work without empathy; therefore, it needs exercises to break existing assumptions and gain real insight into the users.
Stage 2: Define
This is where the information gathered during the empathizing stage is used to state the needs and problems of the users. The observations are used to define core problems and generate problem statements. Personas of the problems are created to keep the efforts human-centered before proceeding to the next stage.
Stage 3: Ideate
The solid foundation of knowledge gathered from the last two phases is used to generate ideas. This is also the time to challenge assumptions and think outside of the box to find alternative ways to solve problems and innovate. Brainstorming over the problem statement is the primary process here.
Stage 4: Prototyping
This is the stage where ideas are converted into solutions and experimented with, picking the best possible solution out of the bunch. The teams come up with scaled-down, inexpensive versions of the product or specific features to investigate the ideas.
Stage 5: Testing
Testing is the final phase, where the prototypes are rigorously tested. It could deliver the required solution or redefine the problem and give feedback to make further iterations.
The different stages run simultaneously, offering insights and driving change in one another until the ideal solution is reached.
The Difficulty with Innovation
Successful innovation processes need to deliver superior solutions, reduce risks and costs of change and gain acceptability by the employees. However, organizations often encounter problems with the implementation of innovative processes.
Superior solutions mean the teams need to come up with original ideas by asking completely new questions, which fall out of the limits of conventional thinking. Sometimes it gets teams hung up indefinitely on problems while action-oriented managers are too impatient to figure out new questions. Bringing in diverse voices also improves solutions; however, it can create opposing perspectives that end in divisive debates.
Reduce risks and costs
Uncertainty is a defining feature of innovative processes. Hence, innovation teams have to create a portfolio of options that tends to divert resources and focus on too many ideas and dilute them. To overcome this issue, sacrifices have to be made, and people often tend to kill creative and riskier ideas than the familiar ones.
Acceptance by employees
Unless the employees get behind the ideas, it won’t take off. It is also ideal to involve the employees in the idea-generation phase to win their support. However, this can soon spiral into chaos without leadership that can make calculated trade-offs. Generating variations in the process of innovation while driving it out to create stability is the existing operational philosophy to achieve set targets. To manage all of this, social technology is needed to address behavioral obstacles.
How Design Thinking Helps with Innovation
One of the first thoughts people get about design thinking is how it can address their specific needs. Here are some of the ways in which it is an indispensable tool when driving innovation:
1. Bringing structure to innovation
Although the innovative process has fewer to no limitations or structure to its operation, managers on innovation teams are not the people who design or do face-to-face customer interactions. The structure brought by design thinking to innovative processes helps managers keep the process in check. The structure also eliminates wasted time or impatient executions.
2. Holistic approach to challenges
Instead of approaching only the technical aspects, design thinking persuades teams to approach problems that often lie at the intersection of the business aspects, logical aspects, and the societal, rational, and creative aspects. Design thinking is not needed to tackle known or tamed problems; it is required in order to take on multifaceted new problems.
3. It is not only a process
Design thinking is not to be seen as a process to solve problems, and it is also a mindset that can be applied wherever innovation is required, or out-of-the-box thinking or approach is needed. It can be used in tandem with other strategies, methodologies, and practices.
4. It is all about human-centered innovation
In today’s world, companies are scrambling to remain relevant by battling for human attention. Existing conformist and linear approaches no longer generate solutions that enamor modern users with their high and complex expectations. Design thinking offers the tools to not only fulfil needs but to create trends and alter the landscape of what could be.
Developing Design Thinking
Business leaders have led successful innovation teams in a number of industries using design thinking skills. Consider the fact that companies such as Apple, IBM, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, SAP, and Nike are all design-led. They have surpassed the S&P 500 by 211% over a ten-year period. The demand for the approach in newer and existing organizations will only grow in the years to come.