What is Design Thinking?

Posted by Beverly Ingle on January 9, 2014

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
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.

Topics: Business

About Beverly Ingle

Beverly Ingle founded Resilient By Design, a marketing strategy and innovation management consultancy based in San Antonio, Texas, where she works with clients from a variety of industries to understand and leverage the design-thinking process to create stronger, more profitable businesses. Equally left-brained and right-brained, she is a strategist through and through, and she is passionate about developing strong brands that resonate with local consumers as a means to helping entrepreneurs and local economies succeed. A Fellow among the inaugural cohort of the Leading by Design Fellows Program of the California College of the Arts, Beverly has used the skills she’s learned to help companies grow, weather change, and become more profitable anchors in their local communities.

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