Although Design is often used to describe an object or a result, Design in its most effective form is a process, an action. Something you do to solve problems and discover new opportunities. Techniques and tools differ and their effectiveness are arguable but the core of the process stays the same. Basically it consists of four elements.
1 | Define the problem
Sounds simple but doing it right is perhaps the most important of all the four stages. Another way to say it is defining the right problem to solve. Design thinking requires a team or business to always question the brief, the problem to be solved. To participate in defining the opportunity and to revise the opportunity before embarking on its creation and execution. Participation usually involves immersion and the intense cross examination of the filters that have been employed in defining a problem.
In design thinking observation takes center stage. Observation can discern what people really do as opposed to what you are told that they do. Getting out of the cube and involving oneself in the process,product,shopping experience or operating theater is fundamental. No one’s life was ever changed by a PowerPoint presentation.
Design thinking in problem definition also requires cross functional insight into each problem by varied perspectives as well as constant and relentless questioning, like that of a small child, Why?, Why? Why? Until finally the simple answers are behind you and the true issues are revealed. Finally, defining the problem via design thinking requires the suspension of judgment in defining the problem statement. What we say can be very different to what we mean. The right words are important. It’s not “design a chair”, it’s…”create a way to suspend a person”. The goal of the definition stage is to target the right problem to solve, and then to frame the problem in a way that invites creative solutions.
2 | Consider many options
Even the most talented teams and businesses sometimes fall into the trap of solving a problem the same way every time. Especially when successful results are produced and time is short. Design thinking requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions be created for consideration. And created in a way that allows them to be judged equally as possible answers. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective always yields richer results.
Many times we are not aware of the filters we may be burdened with when we create answers to problems. In this stage opportunites appear. The trick is to recognize them as opportunities. Multiple perspectives and teamwork are crucial. Design thinking suggests that better answers happen when 5 people work on a problem for a day, than one person for five days. Designers have an advantage in the use of 2D and 3dimensional tools to demonstrate solutions and new ideas — tools which are almost always far more effective to demonstrate what is meant, than words.
3 | Refine
A handful of promising results need to be embrace and nurtured. Given a chance to grow protected from the evil idea-killers of previous experience. Even the strongest of new ideas can be fragile in their infancy. Design thinking allows their potential to be realized by creating an environment conducive to growth and experimentation, and the making of mistakes in order to achieve out of the ordinary results. At this stage many times options will need to be combined and smaller ideas integrated into the selected schemes that make it through.
3.5 Repeat, repeat, repeat
Design thinking may require looping steps 2 and 3 until the right answers surface.
4 | Pick the winner and execute
The byproduct of the process is often other unique ideas and strategies that are tangential to the initial objective as defined. Prototypes of solutions are created in earnest, and testing becomes more critical and intense. At the end of stage 4 the problem is solved or the opportunity is fully uncovered.