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What is Design Thinking?

Sections of This Topic Include

Introduction to Design Thinking
About Design Thinking
Basic Overviews of Design Thinking
A Little More In-Depth
Some Applications

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Introduction to Design Thinking

Copyright, Chuck Appleby, Certified Design Thinking Facilitator

I have been practicing design thinking for many years -- helping organizations, developing new products, servicing customer experiences and strategizing for organizations …and for new cultures. I was attracted to it for many reasons. First and foremost, it is made up of many disciplines: industrial design, graphic design, anthropology, marketing, social psychology and behavioral economics.

As such it is an inclusive discipline -- no one group of experts “owns it.” It embraces a myriad of approaches and avoids the claim that there is one right way to do it. It thrives in an environment of both structure and freedom to discover. It recognizes two opposable minds: the logical and the creative. It values both fact and emotion. It is a key contributor to the rapid growth of entrepreneurial culture both within and outside of organizations. It has great promises in keeping those who embrace it at the vanguard of sustainable innovation.

Its tools are far less important than the mindsets and behaviors that it values: the bias for action and experimentation, the acceptance of failure as an inevitable part of learning and innovation, the value of diversity and fresh eyes, and the importance of first clarifying the design challenge before marching off to develop solutions.

At its heart is empathy -- experiencing and understanding the world from another’s point of view. Design thinking teaches its users the importance of powerful questions, deep listening and reflection. Empathy allows design thinking practitioners to gain a much deeper insight into customer needs -- both emotional needs as well as technical needs.

To be clear, design thinking is not the end-all and be-all to sustainable innovation. Entrepreneurs and innovators must still use other disciplines. On the front end, disciplines like action learning are used to frame the right challenge. At the back end, disciplines such as social psychology provide methods and tools to help gain buy-in for new ideas.

About Design Thinking

Design thinking is an innovative way to solve problems, for example, identifying relevant and realistic strategies, or developing a new product or service. It is unique in that it is a hands-on approach that deeply involves the people (the users) who are affected by the problem. It includes five highly integrated phases:

  1. Empathize – with the users
  2. Define – user’s needs and desires around the problem or design
  3. Ideate – examine users’ assumptions to creative solutions
  4. Prototype – to develop solutions
  5. Test – the solutions to verify their usefulness

The phases are not necessarily sequential, and usually are iterative. Over time, they can produce a critical and creative way of thinking as they progress through the phases and use Design Thinking in other applications.

The process is carried out with a Design Team comprised of people who are highly interested in the problem. Ideally, the Team includes people from a variety of different perspectives on the problem. A trained Design Thinking facilitator should train the members on the process, and also guide members to clarify how best to work with each other.

Practitioners use a variety of tools, depending on the phase of addressing the problem and also o the on the nature and needs of the users. Together, they form a Design Team.

Users are closely observed in how they talk about addressing the problem, for example, how they use the prototypes and what they encounter. The process includes what has been described as a holistic approach to learning from the users. For example, it goes beyond noticing their behaviors, and includes noticing their apparent feelings, such as what seemed to excite them, frustrate them, and cause them to interact less or more.

Iterative experiences with the problem help participants to clarify its causes from its symptoms, boundaries,

A hallmark of Design Thinking is that it often reveals how we are stuck in our thinking about the situation and it challenges us to see situations outside the box – in a different way.

Basic Overviews of Design Thinking

Design Thinking Meets ADDIE
What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular?
What Is Design Thinking and Design Thinking Process?
What is Design Thinking? (And What Are The 5 Stages Associated With it?)
How Design Thinking Became a Buzzword (used in schools)
Design Thinking (references 16-minute TED talk)
Design Thinking Process 101
Design thinking (Wikipedia)
Design Thinking -- Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving
Creativity at Work: Design Thinking as a Strategy for Innovation
Design Thinking Comes of Age
Ideo’s David Kelley on “Design Thinking" (includes history of the process)

Design Thinking is Bull$it

A Little More In-Depth

Introduction to Design Thinking
An Introduction to Design Thinking -- Process Guide
A Virtual Crash Course on Design Thinking
5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process
Design Thinking: Select the Right Team Members and Start Facilitating
Why Design Thinking is failing and what we should be doing differently

Some Applications

40 Design Thinking Success Stories
10 Examples of Design Thinking
2 Design Thinking Examples to Follow for Better Business Outcomes
Case Studies (in Design Thinking)
Business Innovation Brief (links to numerous related articles)

For the Category of Innovation:

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