Everybody is talking about Design Thinking (DT), but not everyone knows what it means to work with this process. In this article, I will take you on a quick tour and show you how Motius is usually doing Design Thinking.
Herbert Simon, in the “Sciences of the Artificial” (MIT Press, 1969) has defined “design” as the “transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones” (p. 55). Having this in mind it’s possible to see that design is something that lies in the future and needs to be created. On the one hand Design Thinking is trying to accumulate ideas without any judgment and on the other hand giving a foundation of knowledge, which is customer-oriented.
Design Thinking is an innovative method, which is trying to solve complex problems and get a deeper understanding of the human and his needs, with the goal of having a customer- oriented solution in the end. Design Thinking is a design process that can help to create innovative products even though the time is lean. The DT process is an iterative process and builds on five main steps: Define, Emphasize, Ideation, Prototype and Test.
In the following you’ll get a short overview about the goals of each step and some methods, that can help to be successful in each step.
The first step, Define, identifies the challenges and needs and is the basis of a project. Within this first phase, the goal is to get a deep look into the topic and the end-user, define the target group and be able to create a Research Question for the project. Different methods, to understand the end user can be used, besides the theoretical approach, such as benchmarking, Interview, Engagement and Observation. After understanding the end-user the gathering and structuring of the information is very important, because you don’t want to lose any important information. One method that could help is to create Personas, which summarize the findings out of the Interviews and Observations.
Before starting with the second phase, called Empathize, it’s important to make sure, that the whole team is in the same state of knowledge and has the same understanding of the previous phase and Research Question. The second step is to connect the already structured insights, find patterns and create a point of view and get a specific definition for the now known problem. Point of Views that are connected to the Personae, help to define Hypotheses for the upcoming steps and to give a better sense to your problem. Other Methods that could be used are: Empathy Map, Moodboard, User Journey Map or in the case of a service, a Service Blueprint.
Within the next phase of the process, Ideation, it’s important to have an open mind and create broad solutions, not thinking about difficulties in the beginning. The ideation and gathering of ideas, without judging, is important. After collecting all those crazy ideas a structure needs to be found. In each phase, you should always fall back to your information that you gathered before and within the Ideation phase, it’s very relevant to check if the ideas give an answer to your Research Question and if the solution can solve the problem of your target group. Some well-known methods are the following: Brain Storming, the Walt Disney Strategy, How-might-we method, Wireframing and the 180 Degree turnaround. Sometimes it’s as well very interesting to start a workshop with people that represent your persona, experts and non-users, to get even more insights and ideas.
The Prototype phase has the aim to understand and work on the idea and make it physical. In this step, it’s important that the prototype is quick, open-minded and a good-enough prototype, which is understandable and testable. The main goal is to be able to test your prototype with the end-user of your target group. Some methods that could be used are Wireframing and Paper Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping or Bodystrorming.
The phase of Testing is about discussing the solutions and strategies, which should validate the Hypotheses. Goal of this last phase is to find out, if the possible solution fits the needs and problems that the target group is facing at the moment. The aim is still to get further insights about the end-user and implement his feedback into the prototype, to make it even better. Some methods that can help to work on this are: I wish, I like, I wonder; a Feedback capture grid, A/B Testing, Comparative Study.
After reaching the presumed end, it’s not the end – the design thinking process is iterative and agile and after each step, it could happen, that you have to get back to the one before or even further.
Reading through all those steps there are probably already some advantages and disadvantages in your mind, which I would like to summarize at the end of this post. Advantages of Design Thinking are first of all the structure and safety feeling for a team, they always know in what kind of phase they are and how to proceed. The agile method helps you to create a prototype in a blink of an eye, even though it’s quick and dirty, but you have the ability to get back to the end-user, before spending tons of money into a prototype no one really needs. As seen there are a lot of different methodologies that can be used in the process and this freedom regarding methodologies is a very huge advantage of Design Thinking. “Innovation needs to be planned” (OECD, 2015) and this design process helps to create, structure and plan innovative ideas. Every positive side of course has it’s negative one as well and Design Thinking, of course, has some disadvantages as well. One huge problem can be how to find the specific problem area, due to biased teams or the problem of just taking the obvious problems, without looking deeper into the problems and wishes of the target group. Based on that and the user-testing phase, it’s important to know what kind of Hypothesis should be validated and if they make any sense. Another common mistake is to just have a look at the users, which may be just niche users, and not at the non-users as well, please note that non-users can bring a lot of interesting insights.
So when should Design Thinking be used? I think that it can be used, when you want to create innovative and interesting ideas to solve a very complex and unique problem.