Some of the most common approaches to solve a problem are situational or context-specific. For example, in the field of structural engineering, most of the challenges are solved by applying time tested rules in the field of civil engineering. For a problem that is considered less severe, a common approach is a trial by error. Mission-critical requirements and issues are solved by using a well-defined set of steps and strategies. The first reaction to solve any problem is to compartmentalize the problem into something which was solved earlier. The mind likes the comfort of the known after all. This is our primordial nature. These approaches have served us since time immemorial and will continue to do so. A common thread running through all these problems is they are well known, and they have been faced before plus they are well documented
In this digital age, when everything is connected, information is available within seconds. Thus ideas and theories are shared and accepted or rejected rapidly, and “Business gets done at the speed of thought” there is a proliferation of data and unsurprisingly problems! New collaborations undoubtedly lead to new products and solutions, but with that also comes a new set of challenges. The older and legacy ways of solving problems as discussed above fall flat when it comes to these new-age problems since they haven’t been encountered before. Take the endemic case of fake news via social media. It has resulted in cultural changes, the collapse of governments, polarised, and influenced democratic processes. How are we to solve these?
Design Thinking is a process or framework or a structured way of solving problems with a transparent, well-defined approach. Along with solving the issue at hand, it aims to develop new, creative solutions. It is centered around key principles of empathy, ideation, and prototyping. That's also how it differs from traditional problem-solving steps
Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.
(Tim Brown — CEO of IDEO)
Reflection is an underlining theme of Design Thinking.
(Pearl Zhu — Thinkingaire: 100 Game-Changing Digital Mindsets to Compete for the Future )
Design thinking is heavily influenced by the techniques used by designers(hence the name), but it doesn’t have to be solutions for design specific problems only. It can be applied to any field. It also includes concepts from a range of different areas like fine arts, technology, etc.
While there is no formal definition or framework for Design Thinking, it’s widely implemented in four steps.
Prototype and Implementation
1)Empathy — Research your user’s need
At the heart of Design Thinking, lies empathy. An understanding of the user, person, or entity which has a problem. Design Thinking encourages the thinker to put him/her in the user’s shoes and see the problem from their point. Being empathetic also involves understanding a user at an emotional and psychological level. Much research goes on in this stage using well-documented empathy-building techniques like interviews, observations. The goal is to view the problem from the customer or users perspective
2)Define — State your user’s need
After understanding the user’s problem in the given context, the next step is to collect all the information gathered during the Empathy stage and to analyze them and define the core problem. At this stage, the objective is to identify the user’s need or problem not in terms of a problem statement, but rather an open-ended question. E.g., For a city that is facing an unprecedented water shortage, traditional ways of problem-solving would be how to dig more wells, how to desalinate from the nearest seawater source, etc. But design Thinking would first define the problem as “What are the different ways by which this city can save and reuse water?” The advantage of such an approach is it does not close itself to any solution. Instead of restricting the solutions to how to dig more wells, how to desalinate from the nearest seawater source, defining the problem expands the horizon for more solutions
3)Ideation — brainstorm for solutions
The issue is now understood in detail and with clarity, from a user perspective. Thus the ideation phase begins. This is a stage where the cost involved is less, this is a stage where failures are most feasible. Brainstorming leads to lots of ideas being thought of and shared. Creative solutions are considered without any judgments. The key aspect here is avoiding judgment or conclusion. Since the problem statement is well defined many different ideation techniques like mind mapping, daydreaming, redefining opportunities can be used to think of potential solutions. In this stage, it is essential to avoid prior perceptions. Ideas which are Wild, quirky, practical, pragmatic, outrageous they are all welcomed
4)Prototype and Implementation — Quick solution
Once a few initial ideas are considered viable, they are quickly prototyped. Usually, multiple prototypes are considered. At the end of every prototyping stage, feedback is solicited. The feedback enables the user and the designer to see the problem in a new light. Perhaps an earlier issue found with the problem statement wasn't really applicable. This feedback can be incorporated to tune the product to the customer's liking. This way, they can generate better solutions. If the prototype satisfies the problem, it will be implemented for production else the cycle repeats
The application of design thinking is not limited to building a new product or process or service. It can also be used for fixing problems with existing products or services. It can be used to optimize existing solutions. Design thinking helps the designers to see a problem in a new light, i.e. from a customer's perspective. This enables enterprises or any problem solver to offer more value to customers