How can we get to know the “unknown”?

Design Thinking (which refers to creative strategies designers use during the process of designing) is a technique that we should definitely pay attention to. It is becoming increasingly popular in business, and it is used for example by Apple, Google, Samsung and GE. It certainly owes its success to the fact that this creative and innovative method places the user at the centre. Its core concept is to be open to users and their actual needs and concerns. Never think that you know the users precisely, including their motives and desires.

Design Thinking is a great and indispensable solution if you want to get to know and map the “unknown”. It is also an excellent tool in case of problems that have not yet been identified (that are unknown) or which have been incorrectly defined.

As most UX and other research methods, Design Thinking is not something new. Books about novel design methods and how to use them in practice were published as early as in 1940. In 1962 a conference was held in London about the various design techniques and the role of Design Thinking in various sectors.

Rudolf Arnheim wrote a book about visual thinking in 1969 (Visual Thinking),  which is still one of the key publications on artistic thinking and education. In parallel, major universities such as Stanford and MIT started to research the main features of the way of thinking of successful designers working in various fields and how their thinking can be applied in other areas. Peter Rowe’s book titled Design Thinking was published in 1987 and describes the role of this method in urban planning and architecture.

Nowadays the most recognised proponent of the method is Tim Brown, CEO of the innovation and design firm IDEO located in Silicon Valley, who regularly publishes articles on the topic. You can view his TED talk here.

On his LinkedIn page he regularly discusses Design Thinking and also writes in the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.
“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success” (Tim Brown)

In Tim Brown’s interpretation, the designer’s sensitivity and design methods should be merged with the needs of people and strategies that are technologically feasible and successful from a business perspective. The method introduces the sensitivity of the designer’s thinking into business.

The process of Design Thinking
Design Thinking has several possible courses, but they are fairly similar. They usually comprise 3 to 7 phases and their core principles are the same as the ones described by Herbert Simon in his book titled The Sciences of the Artificial.

Here we briefly present the model described by Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, which includes the following steps:

1. Know the users.
2. Define the users’ needs, problems and knowledge. Look for patterns.
3. Gather any ideas and innovative suggestions that come up.
4. Prepare prototypes and creative solutions for the issues and ideas raised by the users. In design thinking, the prototype is developed in iterations, that is, you should gradually progress towards the final solution and throughout the design process, you should follow the design, test, fix, test etc. sequence.
5. Test, test, test.

Perhaps the most important aspect when applying the method is that the company which is doing the development — of any tangible product or a web interface or an application — must step out of its comfort zone and look “outside the box” and get to know the users and their needs. For this reason the first step is to gather information about potential users and customers.

This is the area where smaller companies may be at an advantage versus their multinational peers: they can discover and actually hear what ordinary people think and want. Discover their motivations and the actual problems they are facing and find out what would be the ideal solution if they could let their imagination run free.

Product development starts only after this, first with simple prototypes and their constant testing, requiring constant feedback and iterations. This kind of openness is a key component of Design Thinking because nowadays, introverted and rigid structures have a hard time while businesses that build on the needs of ordinary users, think in terms of communities and trust their creativity are bound to be successful.



For more details:
The Design Studio Method: Creative Problem Solving with UX Sketching
Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

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