Design thinking is a method of problem solving which seeks to solve problems using a solution-focused approach. In many ways, design thinking is a more reliable method. It is structured in such a way that it allows one to solve complex, ill-defined problems, understand the human needs when solving these problems, incorporate brainstorming when generating ideas as well as using a hands-on approach in prototype and testing.
Like any systematic approach to problem solving, design thinking follows a particular process. This design thinking process progresses through several stages. According to the Design Thinking Model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (d.school), the design thinking process consists of five stages.
DESIGN THINKING PROCESS: STAGES IN DESIGN THINKING
They may be summarized as follows:
- Empathy refers to the ability to identify and acknowledge the feelings and emotions of others as one’s own. In the domain of design thinking, empathizing refers to identifying and acknowledging the problem as one’s own to gain a better and deeper understanding of the same.
- It involves immersing oneself into the problem to understand its intricacies and nuances by consulting experts in that area, observing those who are facing the problem, and trying to be involved in the physical environment where the problem exists.
- How does empathizing help in the design thinking process? As design thinking is a human-centered approach, empathizing allows the designer to put aside their own biases and assumptions and to approach the problem in an objective albeit humane way, keeping in mind the needs and expectations of the people directly involved with the problem.
- DEFINE (THE PROBLEM):
- Once the designer has gathered the information regarding the problem via the empathizing stage, s/he needs to organize and elaborate on the information. Through careful observation and analysis, one cans seek to clearly define the problem in the form of a problem statement. However, one should be aware that the problem needs to be stated in a human-centric way.
- For example, “We need to increase our bathroom essentials product market share among the rural population by 6%” is a problem defined from the perspective of the company’s wishes and needs. The same problem may be stated as, “People from the rural population need to be able to access bathroom essentials to take care of their daily hygiene and sanitation needs.” This statement of problem is human-centered which is key to the design thinking process.
- Having defined the problem statement, the designer is now ready to start generating ideas to solve the problem. Using a variety of methods the designer and his team seeks to “think out of the box” to come up with options and ideas that can serve to be useful solutions for the problem at hand.
- There are several techniques to ideate and think out of the box: Brainstorming, Brainwrite, Worst Possible Idea, and SCAMPER to name a few.
- While some techniques stimulate free and creative thinking which opens up the scope of possibilities, some techniques allow the designer to test and probe the ideas that have been generated so that they can be used as possible solutions to the problem and can be worked on with more depth.
- A prototype is a scaled-down version of a product or item which can be used to test the solutions generated in the stage of Ideation. In other words, it’s a sample of the final product or item that is being considered to be introduced or improved upon. Here, the designer creates several prototypes which can be tested by the team themselves, by people from other departments, or by small groups outside the design team.
- The purpose of the prototype stage is to identify and finalize on the best possible solution for the problem defined in the previous stages. It is an experimental phase. The designers incorporate the ideas into the prototypes and carefully analyze the results so that they may work upon and re-structure their ideas or come up with new, more applicable solutions.
- By going though the prototype stage in the design thinking process, one can actually see how the solutions pan out in the real world and what are the shortcomings and limitations of the solutions offered. This allows them to go back to the drawing board and strive to come up with more innovative and out of the box ideas.
- After having decided on the best solution to incorporate into and generate the final product, it is put to rigorous testing so that it can serve to redefine one or more related problems as well as inform users about conditions of use, how to think and empathize.
- Even during this stage, changes and refinements are made to derive a much deeper understanding of the product and its users.
Although the five stages mentioned above indicate a linear flow of the design thinking process from one stage to the next, in reality, it is much non-linear. This means that, during the design thinking process, it may happen that some stages occur simultaneously, later stages may happen before the earlier stages, etc.
For example, information derived from testing, can help to redefine the problem and hence lead to generation of different ideas in ideation. Or, information from prototype can be used as a spark to generate new ideas. This non-linear approach to design thinking allows flexibility in generating ideas and promotes creativity which is crucial to innovation and development.