HOW TO: Design Thinking

If you haven’t heard the term before, Design Thinking is a problem–solving approach to complex issues or ill–defined situations. It consists of a series of steps that help frame, address, and rethink problems in a human–centered way. Although it was originally meant for designers, Design Thinking provides an interesting framework that yields innovative thinking across various disciplines.

1. Empathize

The first stage of Design Thinking entails empathetic thinking. By observing and engaging with people central to the problem you’re trying to address, you should get a better understanding of their experience. Immersing yourself as much as you can will also help you break cultural assumptions. Remember to keep an open mind!

2. Define

After collecting information in the first stage, you should synthesize your observations. Think about how to group ideas or what distinguishes some of them, and you will begin to identify patterns. You will end up defining needs, problems, and insights, therefore defining a clear landscape.

3. Ideate

After establishing the context you will be working in, you can start brainstorming ideas. Try to think outside the box, as these ideas will be the most creative and will lead to innovative solutions. Remember the groups and patterns you discovered earlier, as these can guide your thinking in really effective ways.

4. Prototype

You can begin implementing your ideas, even if they are far from perfect! You can build a scaled-down version of your product or solution. Most likely, you will encounter challenges along the way – and that is alright! This will help get a better understanding of potential obstacles, and as you address them, your solution will become more comprehensive.

5. Test

Once you have prototyped your solution, you can start experimenting with a smaller audience. Based on their response, you can accept, reject, modify, or improve. This is the best way to get a sense for how successful your approach will be. Do not fear if, again, you do not believe your solution is completely there yet…testing and failing is great for making it more effective. At this point, you can revisit all the previous stages and make sure you have empathized with all stakeholders, defined the situation, ideated creatively, prototyped your solution, and tested your approach as best as you can.

Finally, keep in mind that the although there is some sense to the sequential order, you should feel free to move between steps. Design thinking is fluid. It is supposed to make you think back and forth as you refine your approach to a particular issue. If you need to use a post-it or two along the way… go for it!