The term “design thinking” has been doing the rounds incorporating pop culture for quite a while now. But what exactly does the term signify? Does it fall under the designer’s domain, or is there any other specific limitation to the use of the word? In this article, we will discuss what design thinking stands for and what is its implication in the architecture fraternity.

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Design Thinking tools_©ideas.darden.virginia.edu/10-design-thinking-tools-turn-creativity-and-data-into-growth

Contrary to the name, the inception of “design thinking” has very little to do with arts and design. Although it’s a buzzword in today’s market, the term was first coined in the book Creative Engineering by John E. Arnold in 1959. Arnold was a professor of mechanical engineering and business administration at Stanford University. He is well recognized for being a pioneer who increased originality through a process that incorporates creative thinking and imagination. From there onwards, the term has found its way through many books and articles written for increased productivity and profit-making in business.

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Design thinking approach_©www.businessmodelsinc.com/educate/business-design-thinking/

Theory

Design thinking is an iterative process that aims at understanding the user, challenging assumptions, and reframing challenges to find new tactics and answers that aren’t obvious at first. In easier terms, it is a backward approach towards a problem. The key is to understand the desired solution first and then work its way towards the problem.

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Phases of Design Thinking_©280 group

Phases

Since Design thinking is not strictly a format monitored by some governing body, it has multiple perceptions, best suiting the authors. But as per the public domain, Design thinking is broadly categorized into five phases. Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

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Empathize_©Interaction Design Foundation

Empathize

Empathy is an important beginning point for Design Thinking. The first stage of the process is getting to know the user and learning about their wants, needs, and goals. This is seeing and conversing with people in order to gain a psychological and emotional understanding of them. During this stage, the designer tries to put their preconceptions aside and obtain true information about the user.

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Define_©Interaction Design Foundation

Define

The subsequent stage is defining the problem. All the results from the empathizing phase are compiled to make sense of them: what challenges and barriers are the users encountering? What patterns have been noticed? What is the major user issue that the team must address? One gets a clear problem statement by the end of this step.

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Ideate_©Interaction Design Foundation

Ideate

This phase consists of thinking about potential solutions now that a good grasp of the users and a clear problem statement have been achieved. The innovation happens in the third phase of the Design Thinking process, and it’s important to note that the ideation stage is a judgment-free zone! Designers may employ a variety of ideation techniques, ranging from brainstorming and mind mapping to provocation. The results are to be limited down to a few ideas toward the end of the ideation process.

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Prototype_©Interaction Design Foundation

Prototype

Experimentation and translating ideas into concrete objects are at the core of the Design Thinking process’s fourth stage. A prototype is a scaled-down version of the product that incorporates the potential solutions discovered in the previous stages. This step is crucial for testing each solution and identifying any limits or defects. Depending on how well the proposed solutions perform in prototype form, they may be accepted, upgraded, redesigned, or rejected.

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Test_©Interaction Design Foundation

Test

User testing follows prototyping; however, it’s worth noting that this isn’t always the conclusion of the Design Thinking process. In practice, the testing phase’s findings will frequently bring you back to a previous step, giving you the information you need to rephrase the initial problem statement or generate fresh ideas you hadn’t considered before.

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Against the flow_©www.iese.edu/stories/transformation-through-design-thinking/

Purpose

Design Thinking is structured to enhance creativity. As humans, we rely on our accumulated knowledge and experiences to guide our decisions. When it comes to problem-solving, we develop patterns and habits that, while valuable in some instances, might limit our perspective. Design Thinking enables us to remove our blinkers and investigate different solutions rather than repeating the same tried-and-true approaches. The entire procedure encourages the testing of assumptions and the exploration of new paths and ideas.

Another big advantage of Design Thinking is that it prioritizes people. By emphasizing empathy so significantly, it encourages businesses and organizations to think about the real people who use their products and services, making them much more likely to create meaningful user experiences.

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Concept formation_©www.concurrent-engineering.co.uk/blog/concept-design-a-short-introduction

From Design Thinking to developing Design Concepts

As it has been established so far how design thinking channels the efforts put into designing from the product end to the inception point. Designing concepts can trace their way back in a similar fashion. In architecture schools, often, students find themselves struggling in coming up with a concept for their design. The major reason behind this issue is their lack of attention towards the outcome of the issue and their entire concentration being drained on the problem they are presented with. 

It is rather paradoxical that we find architects, the professional exercisers of the term “Design”, nowhere in the conversation about Design thinking. To make a breakthrough in design, one has to identify the problems that are yet to be experienced by the user. And that can only be achieved by positioning themself in the place of the user and then putting their “designer’s brain” into use.

The implication of the theory into evolving design concepts does not have to be complex. It could be as simple as finding a bridging gap between the users’ distinct needs and coming up with a unified solution. Just as the most successful lodging start-up venture Airbnb did by identifying the gap between the availability of spare bedrooms in houses and the skyrocketing prices of hotel rooms. They provided the users with a unified solution and the rest is history. As of 2020, the company generated 3.378 billion dollars in revenue.

Airbnb_©Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

References:

  1. https://practiceofarchitecture.com/2019/03/29/the-architecture-of-design-thinking/
  2. https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/what-is-design-thinking-everything-you-need-to-know-to-get-started/
  3. https://www.architectmagazine.com/design/the-virtues-and-perils-of-design-thinking_o
  4. https://voltagecontrol.com/blog/8-great-design-thinking-examples/
Author

“Imtiaz is an architect based in New Delhi, inclined towards art and history. He sees architecture as millions of untold stories frozen in time. He has an immense love for literature and everything that has anything to do with the past. He specifically enjoys museum tours and reading books.”

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