Design thinking has become an industry standard across the world as it combines in-depth user research and rapid iteration. No wonder leading corporations like Apple, GE, and Google have adopted it in their structures. Learning institutions like Stanford and MIT have also introduced the design thinking course in their curriculum to equip professionals with skills for delivering user-centric innovations in various fields.
What is design thinking?
Design thinking is a solution-based approach to solving problems that have been applied by successful innovators across industries. Design thinking is iterative. It is focused on understanding users’ needs by attempting to step into their shoes to see challenges from their perspective and redefining problems to get to solutions.
Competencies of Design thinking include:
- Conducting in-depth interviews to understand the user
- Combining ideas to come up with a practical product
- The use of prototyping tools to develop designs
- Designing simple but efficient user interfaces
Phases of design thinking
Design thinking is a method or a mindset defined by five steps, that are not applied in a straight line but overlap each other. It has been used successfully to solve complex problems that are not well defined using the following five phases:
- Empathize. Empathy is a tool for consolidating valuable information about the problem. The use of empathy maps takes note of what people say as well as what they feel and think by studying their body language when interacting with them. Empathy rules out the assumptions that one may have about the problem by offering an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the problem being solved. Understanding the problem is critical to deciding who will use the solution. It is also at this point that we engage experts for more insight around the issue. One can have face-to-face interviews with users as well as listen to users tell their stories.
- Define. The second phase is where you develop insight into the users’ needs and problems. It involves analyzing collected data to come up with a problem statement. It is important that the problem is defined in a human-centered manner and not just focused on business goals. You need to translate the frustrations and pain points you have heard or seen into questions that give a direction on how to solve them. It is here that you identify patterns of problems across diverse groups and gather different ways to solve those problems.
- Ideate. A clear definition of the problem is followed by brainstorming to identify ways of dealing with unmet needs. It is based on challenging existing assumptions to create innovative ideas and solutions to the problem from a foundation of knowledge. In the ideation stage, your priority is about getting the breadth as opposed to the depth of the problem as you look at all the ideas that can be prototyped or tested. While evaluation of the quality and feasibility of ideas is necessary, it is important that focus is placed on idea generation. After you finish collecting ideas, you can then move into evaluating each idea through the dot vote system. The discussion of each idea will provide the needed clarification.
- Prototype. The use of low-cost and lightweight prototypes allows for developing multiple solutions that are tested concurrently to arrive at the best solution for the unmet needs. For you to arrive at what works and what does not work, the prototype needs to be a realistic representation of the expected solution. A good strategy is to start with a lower version of the solution and improve it iteratively based on the user’s feedback. It’s also a good practice to present prototypes internally first to eliminate any gap before it’s tested by the end-user.
- Test. This stage is all about subjecting prototypes to real users to get feedback on whether the solution solves a problem or not. Testing solutions require one to have an open mind and be prepared to start afresh if the problem is not adequately addressed. You will be looking to establish if the solution is compelling enough to change targeted users’ behavior. A good philosophy to guide you here is developing a prototype as if you are right and testing as if you are wrong.
How design thinking is helping UX Designers
User experience (UX) design is based on providing people with tools to enable them to live their lives better and design thinking contributes to that end. UX has become a critical mission for all companies, small and large. Design thinking and UX are both user-centric methods aimed at creating delightful experiences for users. As UX designers set out to solve problems, solving the problem can be a challenge if you don’t even know what the problem is. Design thinking is especially useful in tackling complicated, wicked, or unknown problems that don’t require logical calculation.
A major contribution of design thinking is its powerful framework. When solving difficult and large problems, it is possible to get a solution that does not fit the end-users problems. Similarly, it is naturally challenging to understand the people that are supposed to benefit from the product or service to be created. Designers, therefore, need a mechanism that enables them to first identify the problem and never lose sight of it throughout the process of developing innovations that solve.
Even a UX designer with years of experience can sometimes end up with products and users that are different from what he had perceived as right or wrong. For the UX designer, creating products that resonate with the user’s perceptions of good or bad is usually the most challenging part of the job. UX designers have the task of figuring out if they are dealing with a real problem or chasing a different problem altogether. Identifying day-to-day problems that people are used to and have learned to live with to the extent that they are no longer seen as problems requires a high level of empathy and this is where design thinking becomes useful.
- With design thinking, UX designers employ a systematic approach to developing user-centric products. The five steps of design thinking including empathizing, define, ideate, prototype and test enable designers to remain focused on solutions that work for the targeted users.
- An important contribution of Design Thinking is that it’s a nonlinear model. That means that designers are not expected to move in a straight predefined line from one step to the next. Designers have the freedom to come back to a previous stage after getting new information or better-qualified ideas. This encourages ongoing reiteration and as such makes it easy for UX designers to spot issues and make improvements on the model.
- Design thinking is applied in UX to prioritize the needs of users and ultimately create a delightful experience for them when interacting with the product or services.
- The design thinking process enables UX designers to identify the most pressing needs of users. Using empathy, it pushes designers to experience problems as felt by the users and build solutions from the perspective of the users.
- Design thinking provides a mechanism that UX designers use to deal with complicated issues.
- Design thinking fosters collaboration between professionals of multiple disciplines as it encourages getting rightly qualified people to brainstorm possible solutions.
- Considering that design thinking invites the active participation of users, such a methodology allows UX to have users as co-designers which increases the chances of having a final product or service that users are actually able to use and benefit from.
Design thinking models offer a map that acts as a reference point for UX Designers. The fact that it’s not a linear process allows designers to gather information, expand, and build on their initial ideas to improve the user’s experience of the final solution.