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The Design Thinking Mindset and Methodology

Focusing neither only on design nor thinking, design thinking is a combination of a methodology and mindset for innovative problem solving. It forwards a problem-based approach to innovating solutions by offering guiding principles for choosing and using various methods to understand problems and users. However, as human-computer interaction researcher Nigel Cross (1982) put it, design thinking practitioners should first and foremost think like a designer. Although design thinking seems like a particular framework for creating designed solutions, Cross warned designers about the perils of “scientizing” design (Cross, 2001). Cross believed that design can be organized and somewhat systematic, but it should not profess any positivist doctrine. Designers can use the many scientific underpinnings of design—like material science, engineering science, and behavioral science—to understand design problems and perform design, design thinking is not a scientific method. In other words, design thinking does not prescribe any methodological rules for innovation.

Stefanie Di Russo (2016), former senior consultant of design strategy at Deloitte Australia, defined design thinking as

a term widely used outside of the design industry to describe the innovative and human-centered approach used by designers in their practice. . . . [It] has erupted outside of design practice as a new approach for innovation and transformation, piquing the interest of leaders from business, education, government, through to not-for-profit organisations.

(p. 3)

In an earlier blog post, Di Russo (2012) chronicled the development of design thinking, noting especially the significant contribution to design thinking made by UX guru Don Norman. In The Design of Everyday Tilings (revised edition), Norman (2013) stated:

Designers resist the temptation to jump immediately to a solution for the stated problem. Instead, they first spend time determining what basic, fundamental (root) issue needs to be addressed. They don’t try to search for a solution until they have determined the real problem, and even then, instead of solving that problem, they stop to consider a wide range of potential solutions. Only then will they finally converge upon their proposal. This process is called design thinking.

(p. 219)

Per Norman’s view, design thinking facilitates a problem-based mindset—a designerly way of thinking that Cross advocated. For some designers including Di Russo, design thinking should cultivate transformation. In Design-Driven Innovation, Roberto Verganti (2009) articulated the strategy of design thinking as one involving radical change. In particular, the process of design-driven innovation involves listening to interpreters or what Verganti referred to as “forward-looking researchers who are developing, often for their own purposes, unique visions about how meanings could evolve in the life context we want to investigate” (p. 13). Verganti’s approach shifts the emphasis in design thinking from process to philosophy. Instead of merely providing a procedure for invention, Verganti’s view of design thinking concentrates on an ideal that pays attention to the design mindset.

But how exactly does design thinking work' As a methodology informed by the aforementioned mindset, design thinking typically manifests in a solutions- generating process involving five phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test, represented by Figure 1.2.

Empathy is the foundation of design thinking. It serves as the first guiding principle for any design thinking-powered process. To empathize is to understand users and stakeholders’ behaviors in the context of their lives, and to engage with

The basic model of design thinking adapted from the Stanford model (Stanford, n.d.)

FIGURE 1.2 The basic model of design thinking adapted from the Stanford model (Stanford, n.d.)

them directly in order to discover their needs, motivations, efforts, and other stories pertaining to the lives of those affected by a particular problem or situation. There are many ways to foster empathy in designers, including contextual inquiry, photovoice, diary study, bodystorming, and journey mapping.

As Norman put it, effective design gets to the root of a problem. Definition is a mode in design thinking for unpacking and synthesizing initial exploration findings into compelling insights and specific scope of challenge. This step in the design process helps designers to develop a deep understanding of user requirements and craft focus, actionable problem statements that guide the design direction. A strong definition also inspires and empowers the design team to pursue innovative ideas in response to wicked problems. Popular methods for defining problems include synthesizing findings from empathy maps, asking “How might we?” and generating the designer’s point of view.

Ideation is a set of exercises that generate radical design alternatives. Unlike the definition mode, ideation is a mode of flaring rather than focus. It seeks to cast a wide net to catch a large quantity of wild ideas before narrowing them down. Designers should aim to go beyond obvious answers and use the previously crafted problem statements to create unexpected solutions. Diversity of ideas is celebrated at this stage. Teams should harness their collective imagination power and actively include varying perspectives to the problems at hand. Exercises that can help to spark innovative ideas include storyboarding, dot voting, affinity mapping, and the four-category method.

Prototyping is the “make it real” phase of the design process. It is about getting ideas out of the designers’ head into the real world. While the Stanford’s guidelines state that prototypes should take a physical form, I argue that digital manifestations of design ideas are just as valuable as 3D object-based prototypes. Nonetheless, design teams should leverage the affordances of rapidprototyping tools like computer-numerically controlled (CNC) milling, digital interface builders, and low-fidelity methods like paper-based wireframes or even post-it notes to create quick displays of the selected design solution.

With the prototyped idea, teams can further explore the viability, desirability, and usability of their design through the testing phase. The purpose of testing is to gather feedback on the designed solution and engage those who might be affected by the proposed solution. The methods associated with this phase allow designers to test their point of view, learn about user behaviors, and identify ways to refine the solution using user feedback. Standard usability testing methods are appropriate for this phase.

In the Design Thinking Methods and Exercises appendix (Appendix B) of this book, I provide further descriptions of exercises and methods mentioned in these five phases. Examples of applying some of these methods can be found within my case studies in the following chapters.

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