We have been previously mentioning Design Thinking in other articles, but we have never properly introduced this set of practices to you. In this article we want to give you an overview of what Design Thinking is, where it comes from, why it is used and what it includes. This article however does not claim to reflect the complete content of this subject and for more information we will add some book recommendations at the bottom for further learning.
What Is Design Thinking?
Design Thinking is a set of cognitive activities, that practitioners can apply during the process of designing. It is not built for a particular niche or industry and that is why it became a popular methodology for organizations in all sectors. If you are looking to innovate with a structure, then Design Thinking might help you with achieve that objective.
Where Does Design Thinking Come From?
While the first mention of the methodology with the name Design Thinking was around 1987 in the book Design Thinking by Peter Rowe, there were similar concepts and thoughts found in material, dating back to the 1940s. It was first a set of creativity techniques and then it gained more relevance in industrial solution design over the years.
Who’s Using Design Thinking?
As mentioned above, the Design Thinking methodology is gaining popularity in this age, where innovation is a key to success and to staying successful. If you are market leader with your product, that’s great, but if you rest on the success, there will be soon someone else with a better product to take your place. Among many others, some of the practicing organizations are SAP, IDEO, Philips, Volkswagen, Siemens, Airbnb, Deutsche Bank, Procter & Gamble, Deloitte Digital, IBM and Microsoft.
Principles in Design
With a lot of practice and experience Christoph Meinel and Larry Leifer identified, that there are four principles to Design Thinking:
- The human rule – all design activity is ultimately social in nature
- The ambiguity rule – design thinkers must preserve ambiguity
- The re-design rule – all design is re-design
- The tangibility rule – making ideas tangible always facilitates communication
Design Thinking Phases
The phases in Design Thinking are not necessarily strictly chronological. Of course you have to start somewhere but it is common to leverage the results of a particular phase and re-start a previous phase with the lessons learned.
- Empathize: Understand the needs and requirements
- Define: Prepare a meaningful and actionable problem statement
- Ideate: Think and brainstorm for possible solutions
- Prototype: Build a first conceptual yet functional solution
- Test: Try the prototype, let others try it and gather feedback
I love the naming of this particular type of problem but it’s so very fitting. The term was first coined by Horst Rittel, addressing ill-defined or tricky problems. The problem with ill-defined problems is that they are ill-defined and that both the problem itself and the solution are unknown unknowns (you know who you are).
The opposite of a wicked problem would be a tame, or well-defined, problem where the issue is clear and a solution is at least potentially possible through technical knowledge. If you deal with wicked problems, often the required steps to achieve a solution are not easily determined and it is hard to estimate any timelines for delivery.
The A-Ha Moment
This is the fun part of the design processing. This term defines that particular moment when through brainstorming and thinking exercises suddenly a path to a possible solution becomes clear to you. Prior to this point all possible solutions are of rather tacit, nebulous and / or inexact nature. When this moment is reached, it becomes more and more clear how a final product could look like.
- Stanford University: Introduction to the Design Thinking Process (PDF)
- Delft Design Guide: Design Strategies and Methods
- Marc Stickdorn, Jakob Schneider: This is Service Design Thinking (Basics, Tools, Cases)
- Vijay Kumar: 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization
Stanford University: Go for a ride!: Virtual Crash Course Video (80 min.)
Photo credit: Paris-Est d.school at École des Ponts / Sebastiaan ter Burg