Design thinking is a practical user-centric approach towards solving problems. It has been derived from problem-solving methods from diverse fields like engineering, architecture, and business. It is because of this very reason that this approach can be applied for development in any field; not necessarily one that is design-oriented.
Over the last few decades, two distinct methodologies developed in order to create solutions for problems as they came up. They were the Problem-Based approach and the Solution-Based approach.
The Problem-based approach focused on identifying the problem and the obstacles and limitations that would be faced in order to solve that problem. This approach developed as a direct consequence of the industrial age, where effort was taken to identify major tasks and set up a convenient factory line production in order to complete the task. A direct result of this approach, therefore, was that there were a limited number of solutions that could be applied to a certain kind of problem. The problems and their solutions were categorized and there was no scope for innovation.
The Solution-based approach, on the other hand, sought to identify the factors underlying a said problem and focussed on finding a unique and efficient solution that would be suited not only to the problem but also its context. This solution-based approach is the main idea of design thinking. As is evident, this process requires creativity and the ability to completely understand a problem and its surrounding circumstances, brainstorming multiple possibilities and systematically testing out each of them before reaching a conclusion. It is an effort to shed the “one size fits all” way of solving problems and is slowly gaining popularity among professionals in various fields.
While the Problem-based approach tends to work on a linear track, design thinking is actually an iterative process. It has 5 phases, as postulated by the Hasso-Plattner-institute of Design at Stanford. They are:
- Empathize: with the user. Understand their requirements, and the objectives. This requires engaging with people in order to understand them at a deeper, more insightful level instead of simply making assumptions.
- Define the problem based on your insights. Make sense of the response from the users. Re-frame the problem to make it more user-centric, so your solution will also be directed towards them.
- Ideate: This is the most crucial part of the process where designers figure out propositions for the solution with different kinds of ideation techniques like brainstorming, body storming (enacting scenarios), mind mapping, and provocation (extreme challenge to explore new alternatives).
- Prototype: This phase involves experimentation with ideas. The proposed solutions are accepted, improved, redesigned or scrapped depending on how efficient they are when the prototype form is simulated as a real-time solution.
- Test: After prototyping in simulations, the end product is then tried for real user testing. This is usually not the end of the design thinking process, because the product is subjected to change based on the feedback loop of the responder. Sometimes insights from the user can redefine the problem in the second stage, or inspiring a solution that had not been thought of before (which would then have to be prototyped and tested)
While they might look logical in their sequence, these steps actually form a flexible cycle, where the designer must constantly go back and forth between various phases before the can find the best solution.
Thanks to the phenomenon of globalization and the advent of the internet, design thinking has not only been garnering interest among the younger generation, but its applications have been becoming more and more popular. Some really good examples of the propagators of design thinking are the minds behind innovation in tech-giants like Google, Apple, and Tesla. The brains in these organizations are constantly improving their existing
designs and interfaces by analyzing the response of their consumer base. The images below show a comparison of their development over the years.
Design thinking requires people who have an open mind that is free of pre-set solutions, who are creatively exploring alternate solutions and most importantly, people who can learn and unlearn quickly and do not hesitate to upgrade according to a feedback loop created for the best user experience.
Why do I think the future generation can be better trained at design thinking?
Our generation has grown up in the world that was made of solutions from problem-based thinking and we now know that the world is now facing crucial problems stemming from these very solutions. The past few decades have been focussed on creating a better economy, an abundance of various things for which we have no real need, but are being marketed based on clever psychological tactics, tricking us into believing they are useful.
To date, our educational institutes have been churning out graduates similar to a factory production line, where each individual has been taught the same skills, given the same knowledge, and is expected to apply it in the same way. Not only is this process tedious and frustrating, but it also diminishes the capacity of the brain to think outside the notions it has known so far.
The aim of design thinking is to step outside the known definitions of problems and their solutions. It seeks to treat each problem on its own, with its unique context and restraints and as a result, find a solution that is ideal for that problem. It is a combination of rational analytics with emotional intuition.