Design Thinking: More Than a Buzz Word

Every so often, a new buzz word starts circulating through corporations and lately the term, “Design Thinking” has been everywhere. We start hearing about it on the news, perhaps someone shares an article on Facebook and suddenly your manager is encouraging you to incorporate this “design thinking” methodology into your next project. But what exactly is it? And how do you employ it in your very non-graphic designer job?

In their book, “Designing for Growth,” Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie have this to say about design thinking: “[it] is actually a systematic approach to problem solving. It starts with customers and the ability to create a better future for them. It acknowledges that we probably won’t get that right the first time. It does not require supernatural powers. This kind of design is absolutely safe to try at home.” Design thinking is essentially a way for managers and their teams to problem solve, brainstorm and test in a more dynamic and comprehensive way. It requires empathy, invention, and iteration. And it requires that you be comfortable with some conversations that don’t always end with clear, concise outcomes but rather will lead to some messy ideas that require continual workshopping. There are four questions typically asked when employing design thinking, and a number of tools that are associated with each.

  1. What Is?
    Sometimes you need to get a lay of the land and figure out exactly what is going on and help frame the problem you are trying to solve. Common tools used during the “What Is” phase of design thinking are: visualization, journey mapping, value chain analysis and mind mapping. These tools all help you and your team get a pulse on how customers see your product or find a cohesive vision for new services and tasks.
  2. What If?
    One of the more creative phases of design thinking, asking “What If” allows you to pose hypothetical ideas that can eventually be designed, evaluated and put to market. During the What If phase, group leaders will employ traditional brainstorming activities but also utilize what is known as concept development, where you chose the best ideas from a brainstorm and evaluate them. These activities give your team the freedom to suggest brave or crazy ideas—but provides framework to then develop them into realistic plans.
  3. What Wows?
    Determining “What Wows” has you testing your new ideas. It is the evaluative phase where you put your new ideas out to groups to determine whether or not they’re appealing and sustainable. Design thinking leaders will employ assumption testing and rapid prototyping to get products into the market for testing. The goal is show how new products not only improve upon weaker ones, but offer better features as well.
  4. What Works?
    After you’ve brainstormed, developed and tested you have to determine what actually works. It could be the time to celebrate a big accomplishment or to acknowledge that this particular idea wasn’t a home run. Teams do this by engaging in customer co-creation and a learning launch, where you partner with customers to finalize products and determine their viability.

This is just the tip of the design thinking iceberg but hopefully it’s clear what a valuable tool it can be in developing and testing new ideas. If you are interested and would like to know more about it, join the Alumni Professional Development team for their Design Thinking event on Tuesday, April 18 at 6:30pm in the Driscoll Student Center Gallery. For more information and to register, click here.

Definitions taken from “Designing for Growth” by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie, Copyright 2011 Columbia University Press.

By Grace Goodman
Grace Goodman Assistant Director, Alumni Career & Professional Development Grace Goodman