What Is Design Thinking and why I should care?

What Is Design Thinking and why I should care?

Have you ever come across a scene which looks something like the image below? We can assume that a lot of time, effort and money was put into creating a path which stretches from “Point A” to “Point B”, but we can clearly see that the user has found another way to reach their destination.

We can apply this lesson to something which is a little closer to home – software development. Instead of spending months building a system and only speaking to the user at the end of the build, why not understand the user’s needs, common practices and habits first?

Figure 1 An example of bad user-centered design.

Design Thinking is a research methodology which focuses on user-centered design. When we take on a design thinking project, ideally, we want to combine what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable to reach the best possible solution. This research approach is broken up into five distinct steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.

Figure 2 Design Thinking is a repetitive cycle of creating options (Divergent processes) and making choices (convergent processes).

Empathise: This phase is essentially putting yourself into someone else’s’ shoes so that you can understand their frustrations/barriers in their current processes. We need to understand what the exact problem we are trying to solve is.

Define: This phase closely mimics that of the “Story” structure in agile methodologies. In the Agile approach, we have a “user” with a “goal” and a “reason” when eliciting requirements for a system. In the Design Thinking research approach, we make use of a “How Might We” (HMW) question (How might we “the user” with the “insight” fulfill the “need”).

Ideate: Once we have completed the empathise and define stages, we should have a much deeper understanding of the users’ needs and can start generating ideas. This stage in the process involves plenty of brainstorming, observing and engaging with the user in the hope of creating ideas. In this phase of the process quantity is more important than quality, encouraging wild ideas is also always welcome.

Prototype and Test: The team start to produce a large quantity of “quick prototypes” which can be quickly accepted, rejected, re-examined and improved based on the users’ interactions with them. It is important to bear in mind that these two phases are iterative, and many times results from prototyping and testing will result in the product/service being redefined and starting the entire process once more. By the end of the prototyping phase the team will have a clearer idea of what product/service will best suit the user.

Figure 3 Design Thinking makes use of a non-linear approach to solving problems. (Interaction Design Foundation, interaction-design.org)

This brings us back to the title of this blog: “What is Design Thinking and why should I care?” … The short answer is – millennials. 

With millennials now entering the workplace and looking to learn via exploration, seeking continuous feedback and expecting instant gratification, we need to be willing to adapt our current corporate structures to cater to this new generation and their needs. I am by no means suggesting that we replace all chairs with yoga balls, open canteens that offer “Instagram-able food” and give every employee their own Alexa to tell them exactly how many “likes” their work canteen food post has received in the last hour; but rather consider using elements of Design Thinking research approach in their existing work roles. Business Analysts, UX Designers, Front-End Developers and Product Owners can use Design Thinking to better understand their user during requirements gathering and therefore design systems which are relevant and add value to the client quickly. We have long passed the stage of a sole individual being able to solve a problem by themselves, we need to start thinking and creating products collaboratively. And the design thinking methodology harnesses that skill beautifully. 

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein

Written by Ashleigh Forster, Business Analyst at Haefele Software.

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