What is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is not a typical skill set learned in business school, but a valuable skill that should be embraced by all business professionals, not just those in a “creative” industry or for whom design is front-and-center in their job description. Design thinking is a skill set that can be learned, practiced, and championed by professionals across industries and job titles.
Using design thinking will feel chaotic the first time, and probably the second and third times, and maybe even the fourth time you put it to use. Design thinking is largely nonlinear and fluid,
as most explorations are—or at least should be. A true exploration is not a forced march between Point A and Point B, but a meandering trail that ends at the defined destination of Point B yet allows for the flexibility to observe the landscape along the way and, perhaps, discover something new or previously overlooked. The circuitous nature of design thinking is purposefully intended to challenge the conventional means of problem solving.
Perhaps most important, design thinking is an iterative and rapid process that can be applied to even the most confounding business challenges, and it is a strategic activity that will identify clear
opportunities that you can act on quickly.
The Phases of Design Thinking
Given design thinking’s adaptable, flowing nature, no one can truly say with strong conviction, “This is the way design thinking happens.” There are defined phases in the approach that serve as
excellent signposts indicating you are making progress. However, the work that happens within each phase can vary wildly depending on the challenge at hand.
At a high-level, these are the phases:
Phase I: Understand
Understanding your business challenge is imperative to identifying and creating a solution, and the degree of understanding goes well beyond that of conjecture or your previous history with
challenges of a similar nature.
Phase II: Define
Once you understand the challenge at a level of detail that reveals subtle nuances you likely would have missed without taking the time to develop that understanding, you can clearly define
in specific terms what the challenge is and why it needs to be addressed.
Phase III: Ideate
Now that the challenge is defined and you know what
problem needs to be solved, you can unleash your
creativity and begin imagining solutions. Ideation is by
far the phase that everyone enjoys most, and because
of that, many teams get bogged down here. Teams
are also tempted to jump ahead to this phase, completely forgoing Understand and Define. Avoid
both tendencies at all costs, or you very likely will generate a wealth of fantastic ideas that aren’t relevant to the challenge or go off on fantastic tangents.
Phase IV: Prototype
Once you draw the ideation phase to a close, the next step is to cull through the idea inventory and select the cream of the crop. These are the ideas you’ll take into the prototype phase. Be judicious in your selection of ideas— specifically the quantity of them—because you will need to create a prototype of each one. As a good rule of thumb, you’ll want to plan on prototyping at least two but no more than five ideas.
Prototyping will start to give your ideas depth, so you can get an impression of how they will take form in reality. Prototypes aren’t always tangible items.It is just as important to prototype a service, experience, process, or other intangible.
Phase V: Test
Testing will help you save money during development and avoid potential disaster. This sounds dramatic, but it’s true.Testing will keep you from committing resources to a project only to find out
that you were on the wrong path. The upside is that testing doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.
There you have it: design thinking, a process of only five phases.