Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Design Thinking Mindset

'Design Thinking' is a mindset. It is an attitude towards design and the process of thinking about it. As per wikipedia, "Design Thinking refers to the methods and processes for investigating ill-defined problems, acquiring information, analyzing knowledge, and positing solutions in the design and planning fields. As a style of thinking, it is generally considered the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context."

To me, the key words for design thinking are empathy, creativity and rationality. It is the balance of these three aspects that helps solve design problems. 

The design thinking process is based on a deep understanding of the audience needs and current challenges (empathy), ideation, thinking out-of-the-box and collaboration (creativity) and finally, experimentation & analytical thinking (rationality). 

Design Thinking is different from other approaches of thinking because it focuses on the process instead of the product. Put another way, it focuses on solving problems but doesn't start with any particular solution in mind. It is also a balancing act between the logical and the creative aspects of solving a problem. While a logical thinking process works well when we have existing knowledge to build on, a creative thinking process is required to create new knowledge and to construct problems differently than we have done before. Design thinking helps us walk that tightrope and in the process enables us to balance logical and creative thinking. Tim Brown of IDEO has written that design thinking is “a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.

The design thinking process has some suggested steps or phases. From Wikipedia: Herbert Simon, in the "Sciences of the Artificial" (MIT Press, 1969) has defined "design" as the "transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones" (p. 55). Design thinking is, then, always linked to an improved future. Unlike critical thinking, which is a process of analysis and is associated with the 'breaking down' of ideas, design thinking is a creative process based around the 'building up' of ideas. There are no judgments in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation. Wild ideas are welcome, since these often lead to the most creative solutions. Everyone is a designer, and design thinking is a way to apply design methodologies to any of life's situations. Simon goes on to describe a seven step process: Define, Research, Ideate, Prototype, Choose, Implement, Learn.

Whether the process has five, seven or eleven steps - the design thinking process can be discomforting especially if the individuals/teams are more comfortable with unambiguous and structured approaches. Creativity, imagination and ideation are the underlying themes and nothing is wrong until proven so by means of experimentation and validation. Experiencing the process is the best way to learn more about it. 

The concept of design thinking is not limited to the learning design/training community. More and more businesses and institutions have adopted this mindset with a hope to solve business challenges and be more competitive. 
To learn more about the process of design thinking, here are my top recommendations:
  • http://designthinkingforeducators.com/ - The Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators - This contains the process and methods of design, adapted specifically for the context of education.