What exactly is design thinking? Why does product innovation seem so hard? Many organizations are fast adapting to design thinking techniques to solve complex challenges. Design thinking just like traditional ethnography involves observing customers and sometimes living their lives in order to learn their felt pains and unmet needs. That however is just a small aspect of design thinking.
Design thinking gives design a scientific basis. It combines logical thinking with creativity and experiments to solve (sometimes ill-defined) problems that have no upfront clear solution and cannot be solved by conventional linear problem-solving approaches. Design thinking is said to be based on abductive reasoning where critical thinking is applied to generation of innovative solutions which are then iteratively designed and validated. Like in any other rule book of Design process, keeping the customer at the core of strategy is also applicable to Design thinking.
Without applying design thinking in new product creation, the efforts and investment put by the organization towards product innovation may not reach fruition. This is because differentiators are hard to define and build. Innovation demands unconventional solutions, thus the approach to identify the problem and finding a solution must not be a conventional market research. Asking consumers may simply not work because they may not be able to imagine the finished version of what they want or actually need.
Vanilla brainstorm and traditional market research methods bring in a plethora of information. The ability to comb out the innovative ideas out of those is a difficult task because it involves further individual and group biases. Innovative ideas can’t be proven with data because no data points exist. For medium to large organizations it is specifically hard to pick up the innovative ideas which if worked upon, appear much like a business risk.
As a practice, design thinking reduces the chance for human biases and several misaligned viewpoints of stakeholders in an organization. The linear nature of design thinking makes it easier for everyone in the organization to onboard, contribute and challenge accepted explanations regardless of their core skills and assigned responsibilities.
Discovery - Empathise and Design
Everyone involved in Design thinking examines the goals and the user journey that leads users to achieve their goals. That is vastly different from collecting and then analysing tonnes of data. Design thinking is rooted in ethnography and sociology, and requires the innovators to live the life of the user. The questions then may change from solving a problem that the users seem to have, to seeking a design solution that the users might actually enjoy with their capabilities and characteristics.
The information generated from Design thinking is organized in such a way that involvement from stakeholders helps to identify the opportunities that call for a new Design. The artefacts typically involved creation of posters and user perspectives in each of those. The stakeholders then mark the opportunities for new Design solutions after observing these posters. The observations from stakeholders are then clustered and organised into fewer groups of problems.
Each of the selected problems are then supported by focus on the problem a potential design solution would address. In this way, the ideas get weighted more in terms of opportunities than constraints.
Moving into ideation from the Discovery phase, learning from the discovery process is shared and solutions are thought of. These solutions are combined from independent perspectives of diverse groups of stakeholders who try to propose a solution in making the overall experience better than existing. Due to the group discussions and collaboratively exploring solutions, everyone contributes to the best they can offer with any holding back. In the team, everyone is now working towards creation of an ideal experience and therefore more commitment is achieved.
The prototypes in the design thinking process are completely discardable pieces and that flexibility opens up possibilities to consider multiple prototypes to experiment on. A prototype might be completely changed if not discarded. In case of digital properties, prototypes can be as simple as barebone wireframes. The low fidelity, inexpensive prototype that takes the straw-man proposal approach is helpful because users then focus on essentials than the bells and whistles.
The solution prototypes are then tested out to ensure and further finetune the prototypes or just create new ones which solve the problem from a different perspective. The outcome of such tests may not be just a Go or No-Go, instead suggestions and ideas to tweak the prototype so that more valuable insights and correct fit design solutions can be achieved.
Human needs are at the root of every innovation. By adopting design thinking principles, organisations can gain a deeper understanding of their customers’ needs and expectations. While design thinking is often illustrated as a linear process, steps can be iterated till the final product design is perceived as a meaningful and innovative solution.
Design thinking brings designers and other stakeholders to a common thinking and doing platform without having them to learn new skills like user research and interaction design. Due to continuous and active involvement in the co-creation, the natural commitment of stakeholders is easier to achieve thereby, making product innovation effective and not necessarily incremental.
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