Design is everywhere.

It’s on the screen you’re reading this on. The touchscreen or trackpad (or a keyboard/mouse) you’re using to navigate this page.

It’s in the pen on your desk and the book beside it. The mug you sip your coffee from.

Most of the world’s top companies put design before anything else, and for a good reason. Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola and Tesla are all successful because of their design-led approach to tackle challenges.

That’s one of the major reasons why everyone wants to think like designers, even when the objective is not purely related to design. Design Thinking is at the core of building a sustainable and successful organization.  

So, what exactly is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking places the user at the centre. It’s a human-centred design process.

The focus is not only on how the product looks or makes one feel but how it’s used practically in everyday life.  

It was popularized by IDEO’s Tim Brown and David M. Kelley, and Roger Martin of the Rotman School.

Design Thinking focuses on finding a solution to complex problems by using direct observation, logic, intuition, imagination and reasoning. The desired outcome should ultimately benefit the end-user.

The same approach can be applied to systems, protocols, user experiences and even building an entire company.

The Design Thinking Process

Design thinking process: empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test

1. Empathise

Empathy is vital to know your users and care about them. It’s the foundation upon which you build everything else. If you don’t care about the end-user and how they’ll interact with your product or service, you might as well give it up now.

Empathising with your end-user will give you a fresh set of eyes which will help you learn more about them. It’ll also give you an idea about the context in which they’ll use your product or service.

How do you empathise with your end-user? You interview them and dig deeper into their lives. Observe, engage, watch and listen their every word and action. Pay attention particularly to the little details and try to look at everything they do from their point of view.

Once you’ve got this down, you have all the information you need to define the problem you’re solving.

2. Define

Only when you frame the right problem in the right manner can you arrive at the right solution.

The Define mode helps you bring clarity and focus to your design problem.

You’ve collected all the information you need and have empathised with your user. It’s now time to capture your findings and define a meaningful and actionable problem statement.     

The problem statement should be formulated such that it focuses on insights and needs of a particular user.  In simple terms, the Define mode is about making sense of all the information that’s in front of you.

3. Ideate

Once you’ve defined the specific challenge you’re taking on, you need to generate meaningful solutions to address that challenge.

If you’re stuck getting started, ask yourself “How-Might-We-….?” and then take it forward.

Brainstorming is one of the best ways to kick start idea generation. The group dynamics helps you build on others’ ideas to arrive at even better solutions.

In the Ideate mode, you try to come up with the broadest range of possibilities to tackle your challenge. Here, the goal is not to arrive at the final, best solution, but the only list down a wide variety of ideas. The more the number of ideas, the better.

This is where your imagination and creativity comes into play. Encourage everyone in your team to come up with new ideas.  While ideating, make sure to defer judgements and keep your critic inside you, suppressed. You can examine the merits of the ideas generated later.  

Ideation supplies the source material needed to build prototypes and innovate later on.    

Some of the most popular ways to ideate are noting down your rational thoughts, simple prototyping, bodystorming, mind-mapping and sketching.

4. Prototype

Bring multiple ideas from your ideation process into the Prototype mode. This is where you evaluate your ideas and filter down the best ones.

But how will you decide which ideas to choose and which ones to ignore? Select too many ideas and you’re left with a clutter. Leave out too many and you’re losing out on your innovation potential.

Choose a bunch of critical criteria to rate your ideas on and let your team decide which one’s are the best. Carry two or three ideas that get the most votes forward into the Prototyping stage.

You can also club a few ideas together if it’s possible. However, never forget about your insights gained during the Empathy mode and lose track of your end-user. It’s easy to get lost in your own ideas and grow an attachment towards them.

Once you and your team have agreed on the best ideas, it’s time to build a prototype. Your first prototype should be cheap and easy to make. Something which can elicit useful feedback. As your design challenge evolves with incoming inputs, the prototype can be refined too.  

So, what exactly is a prototype? It can be anything that you can interact with. Post-it notes, a storyboard, a simple gadget or even an activity. Anything that brings out emotions and responses from the user is a good bet.

You should make sure that every prototype you consider can be tested against a particular criterion.

Prototyping helps you to fail quickly and cheaply while testing a wide range of ideas and possibilities. It helps you break down a large problem into manageable chunks, simplifying the design challenge considerably.

5. Build

Building a prototype needs some materials to get started. Post-its, tape, paper, cardboard, and any other unused material lying around is enough.

It’s wise not to spend a lot of time and money on building a single prototype. Let go of it once you’ve accomplished what you want and move on to the next prototype idea.

Make sure to identify what you’re testing with each prototype. Every prototype you build should answer a question when tested. However, don’t ignore other understandings you gain from each prototype. Tangential learnings help you refine your prototypes later.  

That being said, always build the prototype with the end-user in mind. This will help you stay focused while creating the prototype.   

   

6. Test

Every prototype should be scrutinised and tested against the desired outcome. What those tests are and how to perform them with minimal errors is something that you should decide in advance, upon before building your prototype.

Test mode allows you to solicit feedback from your users and understand them better. It also lets you have another go at gaining empathy for the people you’re designing for.

Ask specific questions to your test users. If they like the prototype, ask them why they like it. If they don’t like it, ask them the same. This will help you gain insights about the person as well as develop potential solutions.

Here’s a quick tip: build your prototype assuming that it’s completely right, but test the prototype assuming that it’s totally wrong.  

Once you’ve done testing, share your solutions and get feedback.

You haven’t completed the process yet. In fact, this is just the beginning. You have to iterate the whole process multiple times until you’ve narrowed down the best possible solution to the design challenge you defined earlier.   

As you practice thinking like a designer, it’ll start to reflect in all your work, regardless of what you’re doing. Design Thinking will help you solve any challenge innovatively, efficiently and quickly.

Start early by encouraging your kid’s designing affinity. Must-Reads: How to Encourage Your Kid to Be a Designer

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