Design thinking is still a very popular method

June 4, 2020
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Forty Years After its Creation, Design Thinking Is still a Very Popular Method

Today, Design thinking is used by creative employees, freelancers, and leaders around the world, and in every level of organizations. It seeks to drive new alternatives for products and service but also for businesses and society. Let’s take a look at Design Thinking, its goals and how it is applied.

What is Design Thinking?

Contrary to popular belief, Design Thinking isn’t just for designers. Several great artists, engineers and businessmen have used this method to achieve their goals.

 It got its name from processes used by designers, which allow them to extract, teach, learn and / or apply techniques centered on the individual, in order to solve problems in a creative and innovative way, regardless of the field of application.

A large number of international brands still use Design Thinking today. Among them, let’s mention several big names such as Apple, Google and Samsung. 

It is also taught in major universities around the world including Harvard, MIT and Stanford, where it was developed in the 1980s by Rolf Faste.

The ultimate goal of Design Thinking is to find solutions to problems regarding products and services. Its process is centered on a deeper understanding of their users. The method suggests that it is necessary to question assumptions in order to redefine the problems.

Only by doing this can we identify alternative strategies and solutions to adopt. Once the process is complete, we have to put everything into play, once again, and do so as many times as necessary, in order to reach results that may not have been instantly apparent when we started the process.

In short, we can say Design Thinking is a way of thinking and working through a collection of practical methods.

Empathy at the heart of the method

Empathy is at the heart of Design Thinking. It aims to understand the individual for whom we create the product or service, in order to better understand their needs and their desires.

 It forces us to leave our own original vision we had at inception, and to emphasize on how it will be received by the user, always doing so by questioning the hypotheses and the solutions we have reached previously.

Design Thinking is often used to solve ill-defined or unknown problems by trying to imagine the individual’s response to what we offer, instead of our own reaction. 

This is done through brainstorming sessions and by adopting a practical and continuous approach which should repeat itself almost indefinitely. The steps are: sketching, prototyping, before testing concepts and ideas.

The Design Thinking methodology

There are three main approaches to Design Thinking. However, all the variants are similar and embody the same principles.

Originally, Design Thinking was a seven-step process. It was designed by created by Professor Rolf Faste at Stanford University in California, and based on the work of Robert McKim. The process consisted of: defining, researching, imagining, prototyping, selecting, implementing and learning.

It was then reduced to five by Jeremy Gutsche from the Trendhunter site as follows: define, imagine, synthesize, prototype and test, before being reduced to three by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, with an entirely new choice of words (ideas) which are: inspiration, imagination, and implementation. 

The bottom line is that no matter how many steps are defined, they don’t always have to be sequential. Also, since the objective is to find innovative solutions, it is normal not to follow strict rules.

 For example, one of these steps can redirect the process to a previous one, even before a cycle is completed. 

We can thus find ourselves in situations where the steps are carried out in parallel. The important thing is to start over as many times as we need, regardless of the order.

Thinking Outside the Box

Since the designers are trying to find innovative solutions that are yet unknown, we often use the English expression “Thinking outside the Box” to express the overall functioning of this method. 

Strangely, you could almost say that it is an anti-method that is used to find solutions to problems that we did not even know existed before starting the process.

However, the objective is much clearer: Improving products or services by analyzing and trying to understand how users will react (or already react, in some cases) to products and services, while studying the conditions under which they do so. This technique touches on less scientific concepts, such as emotions, needs, motivations and behaviours, which are moving it towards a more sensitive, less mathematical vision of problem solving.

The interest of the method is to ask difficult questions in order to formulate more human hypotheses to the problems of given situations. 

Design Thinking, in a way, seeks to demonstrate that the previous assumptions were wrong. Once we have succeeded, the only thing which remains is to discover the real constraints of the problem we are facing.

In the end, we can say that Design Thinking is made to dig deeper inside problems, so that we can understand them and bring solutions. 

In real life, this means creating prototypes and testing our product or service, again and again, in order to improve them, before repeating the process a second, then a third time, a fourth… and so on.

About the author

The article was created by Philippe Camman. He is a Consultant in Digital Transformation, Innovation Management, Design Thinking, DesignOps, DevOps & Creative Director of the responsible communication agency Sublimeo. The company believes that when creativity, marketing, and new technologies come together, solutions that make an impact emerge. Its mission is to create sustainable brands, design user-friendly interfaces, and build high-performance sites and applications.

Philippe Camman