So many great notes and ‘likes’ because of my announcement with the Australian Institute of Management of our new workshop that I thought I’d give a brief sample of how Design Thinking works to give you a sense of how I’ll conduct the training.
Given that Design Thinking is still relatively new, there isn’t one universal process. There are several good models created by universities and academics, and several great ones invented by consultancies (some of which are aligned with universities). But few explained the reasoning behind them, at least in how ‘design’ was taught to me waaaay back at the School of Art and Art History at the University of Iowa. Sifting through 30+ variations from a rough Google search, I chose (and added to) this thought process, which was formalised in 2005 by the UK Design Council and mirrors a lot of what I learnt at uni.
While I may use other models in practical application, I decided on the version below because it also aligns to other key elements of creativity, such as 1) divergent vs. convergent, and 2) analysis vs. synthesis.
The four stages of Design Thinking are Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver.
The process begins with a trigger: a problem, opportunity, observation, a change in the market place, among many others. Whereas the Old Model of Business would immediately develop a plan to fix the symptom (not necessarily the problem itself), the team in the Discover stage takes a step back to look holistically and with a fresh eye at the ‘mystery‘ to determine where the business is now, understand the current situation, and decide what area(s) to pursue. It begins with Empathy to seek information from a particular audience and to interpret their behaviour and values without bias. This observation is done in their natural environment (as opposed to an artificial environment like a focus group). The mindset should be focused on divergent (expanding information to seek many answers) and on analysis (breaking down the whole into parts).
Additional Notes In addition to searching for the what we (may) know about the mystery, some businesses/designers may begin to consider the:
- Why – the intent, objective or a rough statement which eventually will become the design challenge or point-of-view,
- Who – the potential team necessary to move the process forward,
- How – the criteria will be used to judge a successful outcome,
- Where – the creative space that the team will need to develop the campaign,
- When – the potential time frame for the program.
Be careful! Setting the intent too narrowly at the beginning may limit the creative potential later on. That said, the next phases should correct this narrowness if the lead designer and his/her team keeps an open mind.
The second stage of the process comes from a place of growing understanding, where the team – flush with information – attempts to extract insights. In other words, What does all this mean? What matters most? What should be our priority? What may be feasible? The goal of this stage is to formalise the brief (the design challenge, its point of view, the audience, the strategy) so a business plan can be created soon. (‘Soon’ is the operative word as all these elements will continue to change as the team synthesises the information.) The mindset should be focused on convergent (reducing information down to a single answer) and on synthesis (combining individual parts to create a whole).
Additional Notes In an ideal world, the insights and themes come out naturally, but it’s more likely that the team will return to the beginning, to learn more, seek validation, check vagueness. That’s what iterative processes are – repeating key steps as needed to extract solutions, sometimes in tandem with other steps (as opposed to linear processes which doesn’t allow a user to move to the next step until the previous one is finished). Most important, that’s OK … and a natural part of Design Thinking.
The third stage begins with a burst of creativity and imagination. Because the design brief outlines the clear opportunity, the team begins creating solutions and concepts. Inside the creative space, the goal is volume of ideas. The details and specifications are irrelevant at this stage. It’s not just throwing out ideas, it’s physically making the ideas. This forces the team to think visually (as a designer), because by using your hands you have a better sense intuitively if your ideas is right or wrong, and how to improve it. Oftentimes you work directly with the end user to create and build the ideas. Returning to a period of divergency and analysis, the team builds rough prototypes (also known as low-res or low-fidelity), seeks feedback from users, and continues to refine the ideas into clear options.
Additional Notes By this stage, businesses are often impatient. The Old School mindset sees CHAOS and MESS when it wants answers. That’s why it’s critical that senior management is actively involved with this section – and another reason why visualisation is vital. The more that people can see, experience the prototypes, and hear directly from users allows everyone on the team to feel that they’re going in the right direction.
The fourth quarter moves from exploration to engineering. In this phase, it’s important to keep a mindset of “fail early, fix quickly.” Prototypes are moved to test phase, some may even be launched as a pilot or offered for a limited time to test their impact in the marketplace so feedback can be sought and the business’ understanding deepens. In turn, this realisation influences the business plan and strategy.
Additional Notes An ideal Design Thinking process doesn’t end. The most innovative companies are constantly seeking to set the bar higher each time, if not re-organise the business so that the traditional silos of departments are restructured so that interdisciplinary groups can continuously support the Design Thinking cycle.
At this point in the workshop, I’ll compare and contrast this simple theory against the more common models used by the Stanford University School of Design (known as d.school) in the US, the International Design Federation in Denmark, the Illinois School of Technology, among others. My purpose here is understanding of the theory so no matter what your background may be, or the type of organisation you work currently (or want to work), you will be able to apply the workshop lessons however appropriate to you.
I hope this has been a good, fast introduction to the theory and methodology. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me directly or post your thoughts below.
If you’re interested to learn more about the Design Thinking workshop, please give me a shout. For those interested in registering for the workshops, AIM has dates set for Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in the next few weeks. Click here to learn more.
Thanks, and I look forward to seeing you at the workshops!