The term “Design Thinking” has been trending in the IT industry for a while now. This creative problem-solving technique is taking the business world by storm. It has helped organizations (and designers) to understand the importance of human-centered design and allowed them to discover new ways to meet users’ needs. In the case of design thinking, the process to address a problem works differently. Unlike the conventional approach wherein the product is first developed and then it is revealed how it is going to be helpful for the users, designing thinking, at first, focuses on identifying the problems of the users (human-centered problems) and then developing a product that could provide the required solution.
Design thinking is not a new concept. Many things around us are the end-products of a design thinking process, such as bridges and subways. Although it started as a process to create sleek new products and technology, the design thinking methodology is now globally used across sectors, be it private or public. Let’s briefly understand what design thinking is, why is design thinking important, and the different stages of the design thinking process.
Design thinking is all about prioritizing users’ needs above anything else. It is based on observations and empathy to understand users’ concerns, how they behave or interact in an environment, and then following an iterative process to create new and innovative solutions.
As mentioned above, design thinking caters to human-centered problems, which means it seeks evidence of how humans interact with a product or service rather than how organizations want them to interact with it. Designers observe how consumers use a product or service and then work on its refinement to enhance the user experience. This is the iterative segment of design thinking.
Contrary to conventional problem solving which involves a linear process of identifying problems followed by brainstorming solutions, design thinking is a non-linear process that tends to work only if it is iterative. It is less concerned with developing a single solution but more with constantly evolving your thinking and addressing consumer needs. The design thinking methodology implies that a hands-on, user-centric approach to problem-solving can lead to innovative solutions and also a competitive advantage.
Let’s take the example of Toyota which leveraged design thinking to enhance productivity at one of its factories in Burnaston. The staff at the factory reported that they had concerns with the overhead rails. Small hoppers used to run around the rails, which led to carbon deposition on the rails. And every time it had to be cleaned, the line would have to stop which hampered the staff’s work.
Toyota trains its staff in “kaizen” problem-solving means “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.” One of the Kaizen-trained natives came up with the idea of zip-tying a portable vacuum to the delivery hopper which helped clean the rails regularly while the machines used to run, and this prevented hours of downtime.
People may often ask what was the need of introducing a new method to product development. Well, there are various reasons to get involved in design thinking, such as-
It’s a user-centered process that begins with collecting user data, creating artifacts that address the real user needs and not imaginary, and then testing those artifacts with real users. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, it leads to innovation by inspecting different avenues of the same problem. Most importantly, it enables companies to create long-lasting solutions that provide immense value to users. Let’s dig deep to understand why design thinking is important.
By following a user-centric approach with a keen observation of the users’ problems and needs, design thinking helps designers figure out the pain points of the users that they may have overlooked earlier or didn’t cross their minds. It can help fix those pain points once they are pinpointed.
Design thinking is important because it addresses problems that even the users aren’t aware of. Users often do not have an idea of what problems they have that need to be solved. Upon careful observation, one can recognize problems once they start seeing things from the user’s perspective and try to understand the real consumer behavior rather than just focusing on their own ideas. This helps elucidate the ambiguous challenges and makes it relatively easy to develop solutions.
Human nature is such that we avoid believing things that do not seem possible or are difficult to imagine. No one would ask for something that doesn’t yet exist. Design thinking methodology helps identify those pain points which otherwise would have never been known. Using an iterative technique to deal with those problems leads to some innovative solutions.
Instead of researching problems for a long period without coming to an outcome, design thinking supports creating prototypes followed by testing to check their effectiveness.
The design thinking process involves five stages to deal with unknown or ill-defined problems. The stages are- Empathize, Design, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.
The first stage of the design thinking process is about observing consumers with “empathy” to gain insights into how they interact with a product and how they are affected by it and the associated issues. Empathy here is important to get a clear understanding of the problems consumers are facing and not forming a preconceived notion of their needs, which in turn helps design the product accordingly. Empathy allows designers to set aside self-made assumptions and gain a deeper understanding of users and their needs.
To begin with, designers need to put themselves in consumers’ shoes and then research. Conduct interviews, ask about their real concerns and then collect that information to create ideal user personas later.
The second stage involves identifying or listing down the problems from the information you have accumulated during the empathize stage. Analyze your observations and define the core problems users are facing, called problem statements. This helps you know what a user needs, what they are struggling with, what are the associated challenges, and how you can come up with a way to counter those problems. Once you synthesize your observations, you can define the user problems in a much better way and go on to create user personas.
After the first two stages, the third stage of the design thinking process revolves around generating ideas. Once the problem has been defined, it is then time to think about how it can be solved. This phase is all about brainstorming ideas, thinking outside of the box, and coming up with ideas that could serve or solve the identified problems.
Discuss with your team and welcome as many creative ideas as possible so that when you finalize a few, they have got everything important covered from the many ideas put forward. Ideation is probably the best part of the design thinking process. Not only it is fun and exciting but also brings the best of the lot by allowing every person in the team to use their creativity and think about the problem statement from their own angle.
The fourth stage is an experimental stage that involves the action of converting ideas into actual solutions. In this phase, prototypes are created to see how consumers perceive the product. A prototype is not the final version of a product but a simulation or a sample version to test the product before its launch. The aim is to find the best possible solution that addresses the problems and fits well with the formed ideas.
There are various prototyping techniques such as rapid prototyping, sketching, etc. No matter which method you adopt, the purpose remains the same, i.e. to build rough drafts for the product and check whether or not it is covering what has been expected of it.
The final stage of the design thinking process is the testing stage where you obtain feedback on the final product. Although this is last, design thinking is iterative and hence designers can return to previous stages at any point to make further adjustments and refinements in order to enhance the product.
Here, designers test the prototype with consumers to observe how they interact with it, whether the developed solution meets their needs, and whether it successfully addresses their concerns. On the other hand, it helps designers learn more about the user, and allows them to make any necessary changes, if required, as per the feedback received from the users. It also works as a technique to verify whether the company has been able to achieve the desired goals.
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