Beginner's Guide To Design Thinking

by Bjorn W.

In today's competitive environment, business problems seem to be more complex than ever before, where some issues look quite vague and have no clear answers. To address these challenging issues, many frameworks have emerged over the past few years. Design thinking is one such framework which has been widely used by enterprises in the business context today, although initially it was used by designers during the designing process as a practical and creative method for solving problems using suitable strategies.

Let’s delve a bit more into detail to understand more about design thinking, its history and the stages involved in this process.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is solution-oriented thinking with the aim of producing a viable and constructive result in the future. The focus of design thinking is to identify and investigate both known and unknown aspects of the present situation to come up with alternative solutions which may be able to meet a single or multiple satisfactory goals. In short, this approach of design thinking is a proven and repetitive problem-solving mechanism that can be used by any business to achieve excellent results. The primary objective of design thinking is merely thinking and ideating on a solution to address a specific issue or meet customer needs. It combines critical and creative thinking that enables ideas and information to be organized along with allowing crucial decisions to be made, helps to improve the situation and leads to gaining knowledge in the process. It is a mindset which involves focusing not on the core issues, but on the possible solutions.

History of Design Thinking

Design thinking was developed by Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize Laureate in 1969 where several variations were done in the stages, but the basic premise and focus still continue to remain the same. He has also contributed many ideas to design thinking, which are now considered to be the tenets of design thinking. Besides, he has also made a reference to the concept of rapid prototyping and testing based on observation and many other thoughts which are considered to be core elements of today’s design thinking process. Robert H. McKim who was an artist and engineer laid emphasis on the impact of visual thinking and design methods using a more holistic approach to solving problems in his book, Design Thinking Methodology.

In 1982, Nigel Cross shared his views regarding the nature of problem-solving of designers through his paper-Designerly Ways of Knowing with more series of paper which were published in the 2000’s. In his 1982 article, he compared designer’s problem solving with the known design related problem solutions used in everyday life. Byran Lawson, a professor at the School of Architecture in the University of Sheffield, UK also shared his insights which were collected through a series of tests that gave a glimpse of the comparative methods used by the scientists and architects while trying to solve a similar problem that lacked ambiguity. Horst Wittel believed that design thinking was more effective in managing what he referred to as, “ wicked problems” which are actually tricky and not well-defined, where both the problem and the solution are not known.

Stages of design thinking

There are different stages in design thinking which may be described as follows:

Understand the problem and showing empathy.

The first phase is to gain a proper understanding of the problem, which may be through personal experience or watching other people experiencing the problem and interacting with them. The information which is gathered in this process helps to accept or reject the assumptions of the problem and the environment in which it is taking place. The understanding can be documented through a brief which provides the project team a framework to begin the process, set benchmarks to measure the progress and plan set of objectives that need to be realized.

Define the problem statement

Based on the observations and experiences, the next step is to analyze the problem statement which is most tricky in this process. Here it’s important to find a common thread that addresses the pain points along with the suggestions which make up the root of the problem. The core statement needs to be general to cover the entire scope of the problem, but at the same time needs to have details about the critical issue. It’s a good practice to check with the users and validate the problem statement.

Ideation or brainstorming the issue

The next step after understanding the users and assessing the scope of the problem is to brainstorm all possible solutions by using different brainstorming techniques. It’s okay, to begin with, divergent thinking that allows to think outside of the box and get as many ideas as possible through the brainstorming session. Then, use convergent thinking to pinpoint the most viable solution. Before moving on to the next stage, it’s necessary to ensure that the answer is able to address the problem statement and satisfies the scope as well.

Prototyping and implementation

The solution needed to be developed on a small scale and tested in a controlled experimental setting against the given problem. Based on the effectiveness, the team can continue to make improvements or start developing another one. This cycle of iteration needs to be repeated as many times as required to assess the critical failure points and fix them before it is further implemented. Once the solution has proved to be successful in addressing the problem statement, it needs to be rolled out into phases. Again, in this phase, the team engages in a discussion through brainstorming at frequent intervals to make further enhancements to the solution which is continued to achieve maximum sustainability in the long run.


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