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  • Writer's pictureGhazal Kawar

Design Thinking: A Human Approach to Creative Problem Solving

What is design thinking, and why is it taking the world by storm?

Photo by Axel Ruffini

"Design thinking is an iterative and non-linear process that contains five phases: 1. Empathize, 2. Define, 3. Ideate, 4. Prototype and 5. Test." - Rikke Friis Dam and Teo Yu Siang

Okay, let me break it down:

Design thinking is the process of taking on challenging assumptions by understanding consumers' needs and making creative solutions.

You might think that design thinking is for designers, but it's really for everyone. You don't need a really creative mind; you just need strategic problem-solving.

Why? - Thinking Outside the Box

Some of the most profitable companies are taking advantage of design thinking. For example, in her piece on Innovative Ways Companies are Using Design thinking, Jean Liedtka explains how Toyota implemented design thinking to completely recreate one of its customer service centers. The company combined the minds of business leaders, designers, frontline call representatives, and software engineers to transform its service centers to better accompany customers and service associates.

"This practice — Kaizen — ended up being one of the greatest advancements in Toyota’s history and the manufacturing industry as a whole. It has become the cornerstone of the Toyota Production System and helped catapult the company to consistent success ever since." - Ward Andrews

Design thinking is a human-centric guide for companies to shift their way of thinking and use design to maximize success. I'm not talking about product design; it's about environmental, economic, and social innovation. It's safe to say that users' unmet needs are infinite. In this rapidly changing world, there are new unmet needs every day. With design thinking comes breakthrough innovation.

How? - A 5-Stage Process

Photo by Sandra Iseli

1. Empathize

The first step is to empathize. In other words, gain a deeper understanding of how people interact with an issue in a certain way. It's not just about the research; it's about observing with empathy to learn about issues that consumers didn't even know they had. Empathizing with consumer issues opens the doors to understanding the human need you are designing. In this stage, you must put yourself in someone else's shoes to truly understand the issue. This stage is your opportunity to unlock new ideas.

2. Define

This is where you synthesize your findings. In this stage, you need to combine all your observations and begin brainstorming innovative solutions. Ask yourself, what are the insights? What consumer barriers exist? What are the themes rising to the surface? Think outside the box; think about the cultural influences and lifestyle realities. Again, write down your problem with a human-centric frame of mind.

3. Ideate

Now is the time for you to write down ideas. Think big, crazy, creative, and innovative. Use your imagination and give yourself the freedom to do the impossible. Before getting too excited and getting your designers, you must go through the messy and impatient process of developing the best idea out there. I like to start with sticky notes and visualize my ideas. After all, your brain can only handle so much.

In her book, Powered by Design, Renee Stevens describes the root reasons for ideation:

"Often, an idea will come from an interesting juxtaposition, an unusual pairing, or by placing one element in the context of another. It has less to do with creativity and is more about being open to trying different ways to answer the question: Why?" - Renee Stevens

4. Prototype

Your idea is not perfect yet. This is the stage where you bring your vision to life (inexpensively), experiment with your concept, and build a real representation of it. Prototyping allows you to discover what parts of your ideas work and what don't.

Remember, keep your observations, research, and ideas in mind. Use them to truly understand the issue at hand and put your idea to the test. Ask yourself: are there any barriers or flaws in this idea?

5. Test

Congratulations, you've completed the prototype, and you think you know what works. But now is the time for the actual test. The final stage is where you collect consumer feedback; accurate, genuine, and valid opinions of your idea. During the testing phase, you must hold all other stages dearly to your mind. Ask yourself: did I meet my consumers' needs? Does it answer how they feel? How does it solve their problems?

Design Thinking is an Instinctive Process

Let's talk reality; this is your first prototype, so you need to accept the critique and restart at the first phase: empathize again. It may seem like an intimidating process, but the result is a success. Remember that your primary goal is to deeply understand your consumers' needs. So, go back and recreate until you've achieved your goal.

Author's Note: This is not a sponsored post. I am expressing my opinions and sharing knowledgable information.

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