What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a methodology that is a proven and repeatable problem-solving procedure that any business or profession can employ to achieve exceptional results. As a style of thinking, design thinking is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyse and fit solutions to the context. The term design thinking is becoming ever more popular throughout the design and engineering industries as well as business and management practices. Its broader use in describing a particular style of creative thinking-in-action is having an increased influence on modern day education across the disciplines.

There is currently momentum to create an awareness of design thinking processes that designers use to ideate and translate it into modern day educational systems. By understanding how designers approach problems and try to solve them, individuals and businesses will be better able to connect with, and invigorate their ideation processes in order to take innovation to a higher level. To a designer, the process of design thinking is hardwired into their systems; it has become second nature to them. The process becomes part of their everyday thought process, from tackling multi-million pound design projects all the way down to what to make for dinner. There is a process to every step of the journey in order to create the best outcome.

When starting along the design thinking process you must first DEFINE THE PROBLEM. This sounds simple enough but it can often be one of the hardest parts of the process and is one of the most important parts. If a problem is not clearly defined from the outset of the project then the end result will not serve to solve the problem. Design thinking requires for the problem or the brief to always be challenged to help gain a full understanding of the problem and to gauge or remove any preconceived notions of project parameters. At the forefront of design thinking is observation, in order to understand the problem you must see what people do rather than what you are told that they do. In order to think outside the box you must first step outside of it, see the problem for what is really is. Defining the problem involves observing a number of different perspectives and the constant and relentless childlike questioning, why? Why? Why? Until finally the simple answers are behind you and the real problem presents itself. One final key element to defining the problem statement is to withhold any form of judgement. The right words relating to defining the problem statement can help to increase creativity and remove any preconceived ideals. For example, it’s not “Design a chair”, it’s…..”Create a way to suspend a person”

Most successful design thinkers will work in teams to CREATE AND CONSIDER NUMEROUS OPTIONS. This will allow for each option to be carefully judged and considered equally. One way to look for multiple solutions is to look at the problem from as many different perspectives as possible, this will yield richer results and the combination of multiple perspectives can create a wider array of opportunities. The trick is to view the solutions not as a finished product but as opportunities to build on and develop. Design thinking suggests that working as a team of 5 on a problem for one day achieves far better results than 1 designer working on a problem for five days. The key is three-dimensional thinking, with multiple perspectives, every one adds a different block to the pile and eventually you will end up building a skyscraper.

Once you have a handful of promising results you must REFINE ALL POSSIBLE DIRECTIONS. You should nurture and embrace the wide array of possible directions. Ideas need to be given the opportunity and prospect of growth, design thinking allows for their full potential to be realised by creating environments conducive to growth. With some experimentation and the acceptance that mistakes will be made along the way, the potential for extraordinary results increases tenfold. You should ask yourself, can the ideas be refined to boost their potential? Can the multiple ideas be combined? Why? Why? Why? Any designer will tell you, no project is ever complete; there is always something else that can be done.

At this point, it’s always advisable to step back and REVIEW your results from a new perspective. Can the current project be developed to incorporate new opportunities? Is it the outcome that you imagined? But most importantly, does this outcome tick all the required boxes to solve the problem?

Now you have a winning formula it is time to COMMIT TO THE PROJECT, pledge resources and see your project come to fruition. Upon arriving at this point you have covered a number of elements. You have reviewed, observed, understood and successfully outlined the problem. Created a wealth of solutions, reviewed and analysed these opportunities and focused on a desired outcome and you are now ready to solve the problem.

Design thinking however cannot be completely defined in a step-by-step guide and as much as it has been already and will continue to be, design thinking as a process is a unique experience to every individual. It cannot be defined in one concise process. Design thinking is ultimately an individual’s thought process through a problem solving task. To a designer, design thinking is the process they have subconsciously created through the many years of their design career. It is an amalgamation of a process which is now second nature to every designer. The stages of Design Thinking can be taught but Design Thinking as a process is truly unique to each individual.



Fast Company – “Design Thinking… What is That?”

Wikipedia – Design Thinking


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