Design thinking solves human problems because it puts the human first. The approach is responsible for everything from your computer mouse to improved disaster response management. It is both straightforward and innovative, with the power to reshape how your business solves everyday problems.
Design thinking is based on using empathy to see, feel, and experience the users’ view of the world to establish a collective understanding of the core problems to generate a variety of concepts and ideas to solve. It enables teams to think creatively about products and services from a customers’ perspective while bringing business and technology partners together on the solution journey. Design thinking is especially helpful in addressing ill-defined problems by reframing how we think about it. There is an inherent feedback loop, elicited directly from users through usability testing of simple prototypes from the best ideas generated. This leads to further refinement of ideas to develop an optimal solution through an iterative process.
The Fundamental Principles
While there are many frameworks for implementing design thinking, they all share the same fundamental principles.
Empathy: A deep human focus to gain insights to reveal new and unexplored ways of viewing the bigger picture.
Definition: Developing a more holistic look to gain perspective of the challenge and synthesize observations that define core problems by reframing the challenge through multiple lenses.
Ideation: Involves an inter-disciplinary team to leverage personalities, thinking styles and skills with divergent styles of thinking to explore many possibilities and generate ideas to address the identified issues.
Prototype: Investigation of the best ideas generated by rapidly producing scaled-down solutions.
Test: Evaluators vigorously test prototypes to vet ideas and learn quickly so further alterations and refinements can be made or alternate solutions can be ruled out before committing to a large development effort.
How to Apply It
Design thinking tends to start out chaotically, but through repeated iterations it begins to provide clarity towards a desirable, viable, and feasible solution. There is not one correct way to apply the principles of design thinking; however, there are a plethora of tools to help with each stage of the iterative process and some tools are better for certain situations.
Because it is a flexible framework, design thinking can be scaled to your organization’s maturity and successfully applied to address your unique needs and opportunities. Those who are just starting on their design thinking journey may wish to experiment by applying one area of the framework, seeding the foundation for a culture of design thinking. As awareness and favor for the framework grows, a design thinking workshop around a specific need or opportunity can help take cross-functional teams through the end-to-end process, providing practical hands-on experience that continues to build skill and confidence in how to leverage design thinking in your organization.
Ultimately, transformation into a design-centric organization takes time. Long-term application of design thinking is achieved through executive commitment, strategic inclusion, and investments in the necessary resources and training at all levels of your organization to empower innovative doing.
RevGen has developed and applied a method of design thinking, re:Design, that is inspired by Stanford d.school. It is an intentionally iterative process that allows us to learn quickly, fail fast, and develop solutions that address users’ biggest needs and potentially disrupt industries. re:Design has three stages: Relate, Reimagine, and Realize.
Relate: First, we conduct research to better understand who our stakeholders are and what needs they have. We uncover underlying emotions and capture stories exemplifying how users think and act. Relate culminates in the prioritization of elements that matter most to users.
Reimagine: Next, we analyze prior observations, challenge assumptions, synthesize findings to define root problems, and pinpoint resulting goals and metrics. We check our implicit biases – the unconscious attitudes or stereotypes we maintain that affect our thinking and actions – by including a diverse subset of users or personas in our design sessions and striving for diverse design teams.
Realize: Finally, we prototype the highest potential solutions, conduct usability testing to gather feedback, refine accordingly, and to continue to learn about our users’ needs and wants. These activities point us towards the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Once stakeholder alignment is achieved on this MVP, we can create implementation plans to realize these innovative solutions.
Once the MVP is completed, we iterate and test again to obtain feedback to inform the next round of capabilities… and so design thinking infinitely goes on!
Using Design Thinking for Innovation
Design thinking lends itself to minimize the risk and break down the biases that can affect innovation by utilizing empathy and experimentation. At RevGen, we use design thinking to generate ideas from across our organization. Our employees are a diverse knowledge pool on the topics that impact our clients, so we call on them regularly to offer innovative ideas and provide input on those collected over time. In doing so, we use design thinking to help accelerate a holistic thought process for application across innovation and project work. In the future, we are looking to leverage design thinking to improve our process around ideation, use case generation, as well as internal and external improvement ideas.
Evan Struke is passionate about using her management consulting experience to help clients drive meaningful value by keeping the customer at the heart of digital delivery and transformation.
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