The book “Design Your Thinking: The Mindsets, Toolsets and Skill Sets for Creative Problem-solving” by Pavan Soni describes how to harness design thinking for creative problem solving.
Pioneered by IDEO and Stanford d.school, design thinking is one such approach that draws inspiration from the realm of product design. However, it shouldn’t be narrowly associated with the world of start-ups and technology or thought of as something limited to product development. The method is increasingly being used in a wider context and can help us address a vast array of problems.
This book attempts to offer a practitioner’s perspective on how the tenets, methods and discipline of design thinking can be applied across a range of domains, including to everyday problems, and help us become expert problem-solvers through the use of the appropriate toolsets, skill sets and mindsets.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
Design thinking is a systematic, human-centric approach of problem-solving. With its origins in industrial design, product design and architecture, design has, for long, been very narrowly associated with the tangibles. ‘Because design has historically been equated with aesthetics and craft, designers have been celebrated as artistic savants,’ says Jon Kolko, the founder of Austin Center for Design. That limited view is fast giving way to a broader application of the tenets of design to a wider set of problems and contexts. The evolution of design to design thinking is the graduation from thinking about the product or service to thinking about the relation between the product and the humans, and the relation between humans. According to Kolko, a design-centric culture transcends design as a role, imparting a set of principles and practices to anyone keen to bring ideas to life.
In design thinking, the emphasis is on thinking and doing, and not just on designing. The outcome may be a product, or a process, or a service, but more significantly, an experience. Experiences, not just at the level of the company-customer interface but for the entire business ecosystem. The element of design in design thinking draws inspiration from Confucius’s famous quip, ‘I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.’ It is as much about doing as about thinking, if not more so.
Tom Kelley, the long-time general manager of the Silicon Valley-based product design firm IDEO and younger brother of IDEO founder David Kelley, defines design thinking as, ‘[An approach that] involves applying the creative tools and mindset that designers have used for decades to new challenges going well beyond what has traditionally been thought of as design.’
He further identifies the prime ingredients of design thinking as empathy, experimentation and storytelling. IDEO founder, David Kelley, who also established the Stanford d.school, offers: ‘Design thinking relies on the natural – and coachable – human abilities to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, and to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional.’
Tim Brown of IDEO provides a more elaborate definition of design thinking: ‘A human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of the people, the possibilities of technology, and requirements for business success.’ The simultaneous pursuit of human desirability, technical feasibility and business viability keeps the efforts of problem-solving earnest. In an insightful TED Talk, Brown traces the evolution of design as a profession and argues why it is imperative that the principles of product design be broad-based to solve more complex social and business problems.
IDEO has contributed significantly in popularizing the construct of design thinking. Founded in 1978, IDEO has truly grown beyond a design company to an innovation and creativity consultancy. A brief history of IDEO is presented by Tom Kelley in his book, The Art of Innovation. The company has evangelized the notion of ‘design with a small “d”’, nudging people to think beyond designing objects with aesthetics and functionality to an approach of holistic problem-solving.
However, the event that popularized IDEO and its contemporary approach to (product) design was a programme that aired in 1999 on ABC News’ Nightline. Titled ‘The Deep Dive into IDEO’, the documentary offered a peek into IDEO’s design philosophy and into the methods adopted by an eclectic team as they redesign a shopping cart in just five days. The video, which is available on YouTube, is a good starting point to appreciate a systematic approach of problem-solving and the environment that enables such an endeavour. It is informative at multiple levels: the process of design thinking, the right mix of people, the ideal workplace design, empathy, humour and creativity at play, and the role of a leader.
Along with specific tools, techniques and principles, design thinking could be viewed as a method that introduces discipline into the otherwise chaotic process of creativity. The two most popular models of design thinking are from IDEO and the Stanford d.school.
Shown below is the six-stage design thinking process as practised and preached by IDEO.
1. Frame a question: Identify an anchor question that motivates the team.
2. Gather inspiration: Get to the field to generate fresh insights.
3. Generate ideas: Go for a high number of ingenious ideas.
4. Make ideas tangible: Build crude prototypes to see your ideas in action.
5. Test to learn: Put your prototypes to test with a real audience.
6. Share the story: Inspire others through emotional narratives.
The process might look linear, but as David Kelley likes to say, ‘Design thinking is not a linear path. It’s a big mass of looping back to different places in the process.’ It is a system of overlapping spaces and not a neat sequence of orderly steps. Tim Brown identifies these overlapping spaces as inspiration, ideation and implementation. In the inspiration space, insights are gathered from all possible sources; the ideation space aims at translating insights into ideas; and, finally, the implementation space is where the best ideas are scaled to create the ultimate impact, in the form of products, services or customer experiences.
The Stanford d.school, founded by David Kelley in 2005, adopts a similar approach. The process clearly marks out empathize as a significant and primal phase of the design thinking journey. Shown next is the five-stage design thinking process, as adopted by the Stanford d.school.
1. Empathize: Learn about and from your audience about their real concerns.
2. Define: Sharpen your focus on the most important problems to be solved.
3. Ideate: Generate a high volume of ideas around your problem.
4. Prototype: Convert your ideas into quick and dirty mock-ups.
5. Test: Subject your prototypes to real-world validation.
In the two models of design thinking as discussed above, the problem-solving journey starts with the users (through empathy) and culminates with the users (through validation). At its very core, the design thinking process is a series of divergent and convergent steps. So, instead of thinking linearly from a problem to a solution, the notion is to first generate choices and then make choices. The difficult part is to think divergently, and design thinking necessitates that you go broad before you go narrow.
The models from IDEO and Stanford d.school have been widely adopted and adapted. However, for design thinking to effectively address real-world problems, we still need to add two more stages to the process: inspire and scale. Inspire addresses the question of ‘Why design thinking?’; and scale aims at ensuring that the ‘impact is realized to the idea’s truest potential’. Hence, by supplementing the stages of inspire and scale to the models of IDEO and Stanford, design thinking becomes a more comprehensive process.