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What is Design Thinking? Is it legit?

Design Thinking gets categorized as a “buzz phrase,” but it’s an invaluable collection of practices to infuse digital transformation and innovation.

In this installment of Q & Answers, we’re going to come up with a quick definition of, “What is Design Thinking?” For the last few years, Design Thinking has been taking the lead when it comes to how you solve problems within an organization. Like anything that gets popular, people wonder if it’s just popular or if it’s beneficial.

Luckily for you, Design Thinking is the real deal. It’s bonafide, like George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou? would say.

Give Me An Easy Definition of Design Thinking

As Dr. Pavan Soni notes in his article, “Design Thinking is not old wine in a new Bottle,” there’s a quick, catchy way to understand what makes Design Thinking different:

Design Thinking is about finding an unknown solution to an unknown problem.

Organizations and companies sometimes don’t know what the root problem is. Knowing the specific issue is even tougher. Coming in with a pre-defined answer, piece of software, or innovation, doesn’t work when you don’t know what you’re fixing. In fact, it can sometimes make things worse.

Design Thinking is about getting people who will be using the solution what they need to solve the problem. You can’t do that before talking to those very people. You can’t do it without the audience, the user base, or some research and discussion first.

Get the Right People in the Room

Tunnel-vision happens when the same people keep trying to solve the same problem. Design Thinking works because it brings exciting new perspectives on what a problem is, and what solutions can be, and focuses these on the problem.

As we discussed in our recent post about Design Thinking Workshops, get a big cross-section of participants. VPs, Middle-Managers, Customer Service Reps, and everything in-between. Make sure the person who has the problem daily is there, as well as the person who feels the pain of the failure on a consistent basis. All will have different vantage points on what the real problem is. All will have different solutions they think will work best, from their own experiences.

Design thinking means having a champion with clout. Someone who can make the final decision or who has the status to convince the decision-maker. Having them involved means they understand why a specific problem and eventual solution came to be. Trying to convince them later, when they aren’t part of the shared activity, will be a really tough sales job.

Different experiences, both in work and in life, mean fresh perspectives.

Stanford Model of Design Thinking

Stanford Design Thinking Model: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test
Stanford Design Thinking Model: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test

Many (like, oh, so many) different models of Design Thinking exist. Rocksauce even has its own, which we have found works best for our clients. But, this is a primer, so we’re going to start with the most recognized and utilized model of Design Thinking: The Stanford Model

Understanding Design Thinking means understanding the users. That’s what these models help you accomplish. It’s about getting to the core issues. It’s about observing and responding.

  • Empathize
    How can you solve a problem if you don’t understand who is dealing with it daily? Empathize means knowing what the problem really is, but, also why the problem is happening.
  • Define
    Figure out what the precise problem is. Rather than “Our patients are leaving the hospital less healthy than when they go there,” focus in on what’s causing that, like, “Our saline bags are contaminating people with staph infections.” This makes it solvable.
  • Ideate
    Generate ideas to solve the problem! Fun stuff, with no wrong answers. This is where having a big cross-section of participants is so vital. You get great ideas from folks who may have never been asked.
  • Prototype
    Create a sample poster campaign, with close-to-final art. Build an interactive prototype with the actual user-interface, and put it on Invision or Marvelapp. Write up the email campaign, the marketing messaging, or whatever else the final innovation is. Get it as close to real-world as you can, because…
  • Test
    Audiences will respond favorably to hypothetical suggestions of how a problem can be solved. Real feedback occurs when they get it in their hands. Want to see what they really think? Get them something to respond to.

Turn Problems into Questions with Design Thinking

Turn your problems into questions. “Our patients are leaving sicker than they came in,” is a problem. “Why are our patients leaving sicker than they arrived?” What is design thinking? Turning problems into action.

A question can be actioned upon. Questions inspire ideas, which generate answers, which become solutions or a cornerstone innovation, that are then put in front of users. Problems just sit on our shoulders, taking up our mental cycles, never erasing. Design Thinking helps break through some of this fog, and gets us to helping people achieve their goals.

Avoid demanding that the answer is an app everyone deploys. Keep from focusing on pushing your agenda of a new incentive program to increase the performance of employees. Resist the urge to roll out that fancy new SaaS solution you read about on ProductHunt this morning. Let the user and audience be your guide to building them what they need.

One of the big benefits of all this is innovation. Because now you’re thinking of things in a different way, you’re looking at your problems in a different way, and you’re hoping that things are working out in a better way.

Also posted on Medium.

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