Design Thinking Methodology
Design Thinking is a methodology used to solve “wicked” problems, and is solution-focused rather than problem-focused. It seeks the best solution. The key to design thinking is the solution-focused frame of mind with a bias towards action. It seeks to understand why the problem exists, and finds a solution to the actual opportunity versus just addressing the perceived immediate need.
Imagine that you need a really radical approach to a particularly challenging personal or professional problem. Instead of just reacting to the problem, or relying entirely on logic alone, design thinking goes to the human aspects of problem solving or opportunity creation.
Design Thinking isn’t just a process of unbridled creativity and brainstorming, though. Creativity is at the the center of the design thinking process; it's a structured method of understanding problems at hand and finding solutions that are both valuable and functional.
By re-framing the approach to problem solving, and using creativity, innovative new solutions can be developed.
The Design Thinking process has distinct phases or stages, and while there is some variation to the names of each phase, the intent of each remains the same.
All Design Thinking exercises begin with Empathy, and it is critical to the success of a project. This phase, as defined by Design Thinking, is for developing a deep understanding of a customer's or user's needs. Often, this understanding goes well into getting an understanding of their “unarticulated” needs - the needs or problem that the client either didn’t know they truly had or had difficulty verbalizing.
In this phase, all the data collected during the Empathy phase is aggregated and reviewed to make sure that the problem one thinks they are solving, is in fact the problem at hand, and that a definition of the true problem is determined.
Often, and incorrectly, referred to as “Brainstorming”, ideating is the structured process of working through as many ideas for solutions as possible. As you can see, it quickly becomes important to have done the proper amount of research (empathy) and have defined the true problem or opportunity because otherwise you are ideating on the wrong problem and will get a failed result. The best way to avoid this problem is to be both a) methodical and b) ensured that you have the voice of the customer easily accessible as you ideate.
The benefit of prototyping is that it allows you to fail early and inexpensively, so that you may learn from your failures. If you have designed a prototype that you think is perfect out of the box, you may be in for a rude awakening when your solution goes to market, or meets the customer.
Prototypes can be physical, a service, digital etc., and should be tested liberally. All of that learning can go into your final product before you implement it and avoid problems in the future.
The last phase in the Design Thinking methodology is Testing. It is when your solution is released into the market or to customers. My suggestion here would be to also do a smaller test so that you can learn before you implement to the larger market or your entire customer base. But in this phase, you have a fully functional live product and not a prototype. If you have properly prototyped, your solution or product should have minimal need for revisions. Where you may find opportunity to improve is in the supporting and operational functions around your solution, as customers begin to use it. This is the biggest reason to test.
The Design Thinking process is a continuous loop. New solutions or products that you have implemented will always have opportunities for improvement or customers will seek new ways to solve their problems. Things learned in the test phase may ultimately make it back into the product by going through the Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test phases over and over again.
Design thinking is a systematic process for leading change. It can be used on ourselves for personal improvement, career enhancement, product or service design.
If you use Design Thinking in a systemic method, you are far more likely to successfully innovate yourself, your career, or your business - and have a way to continuously make and sustain those changes.