Chances are that if you work in a technology environment, you’ve heard the term design thinking. But what does this actually mean, and how can you use it to your advantage?
Design thinking offers a systematic framework to facilitate ideation around new products, services and experiences. As businesses are faced with increasing pressures to innovate and solve complex problems, it provides a way to collaborate across teams and ensure solutions are fundamentally centered around user needs.
Many companies have turned towards cultivating this user-centric mindset to spur growth and innovation. These days, it’s not enough to just build new products to stay ahead of the competition. Innovation must start by understanding how customers think. And this understanding needs to be supported by a human-centered strategy across the organization.
Some of today’s best known brands understand the importance of this approach. According to a study done by the Design Management Institute in 2014, design-centric companies outperformed the S&P 500 companies over the last decade by 219%. Apple, Coca-Cola, IBM, Nike and Procter & Gamble all fall into the category of design-centric companies in that their very culture, processes and structure prioritize a user-centric perspective in all aspects of the business.
So how does design thinking contribute to effective innovation? Let’s have a look at the principles underlying the method and the steps involved.
Design Thinking Principles and Process
At its core, the method integrates tried and true principles of effective design and pulls from many techniques that have evolved over time. From architects to scientists and urban planners, solution designers have experimented with different ways of arriving at creative outcomes for decades. These processes were honed and repurposed for a wider audience, finally emerging in the business realm as Design Thinking.
The process typically follows 5 key phases: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.
- Empathize. This phase is all about understanding the problems and challenges faced by the user. By putting yourself in the seat of the customer, you can get a better grasp on what areas may need to be addressed.
- Define. Reframe and refocus on the problem to be solved. In this stage, you are defining which of the problems you uncovered from empathizing that you will focus on solving.
- Ideate. With an understanding of the user concerns and definition around which problem to solve, it’s time to brainstorm potential solutions. This typically involves time for both divergent thought to generate options for potential solutions, and convergent thought, where you then work to hone in on the best possible solutions.
- Prototype. Build a prototype to test the proposed solution. Seeing the ideas come to life through a prototype will begin to provide a sense of whether your solution is feasible or not.
- Test. Once you have a prototype it’s time to gather feedback from users and refine it. With feedback in mind, work to improve the solution and adjust the prototype if necessary.
In essence, design thinking provides a means for organizations to innovate well. Using solid principles for effective design, teams co-create new solutions that directly respond to user needs. You don’t have to be a designer to do design thinking. By empathizing, focusing, brainstorming, building and testing, anyone can generate solutions for complex business problems and improve the organization’s competitive advantage.
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