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Design Thinking

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Before even briefing on design thinking or why the word thinking is associated with design, Let me first talk on generic kind of problems. There are two kinds – There are puzzles and then there are mysteries. Puzzles are problems where if you the perfect data set the problem, that gives a perfect analysis of situation and hence the exact requirement than the puzzle can be solved. E.g. if we know GPS coordinate of a particular location we can find that particular location.

There is another kind of problem that is mysteries, where there is no single piece of data, that will actually solve the problem, in fact there might be too much of data and it’s about interpreting all the data that’s there, so these are more richer harder problem which requires more systems thinking, more prototyping and that is where designers often most adapt, for e.g., rebuilding an existing structure, so there’s not one single way, it’s trying different things and experimenting, move forward to solution, we are never going to have enough information, we are never going to have the right information. We just have to interpret what we have and do the best we can, so we start to resolve this when good things happen. But certainly it’s the mysteries that get the designers excited.

Design Thinking comes into play for the latter kind – mysteries. It is most effective when you need something very disruptive and out of the box solution. Design thinking is usually compared with traditional design and development strategy like requirement gathering, prototype designing and development. While traditional strategy has given us great and humongous data, great analytics from which one can make the most logical decisions, design thinking gives use curiosity and power of observation. It takes all the available data and then puts into context of situation.

What exactly is traditional strategy?

Although we say about using innovation or creating alternate solution, we are not used to wonder over the processes we implement. I believe that most times they all feel the same and in conventional business that is probably true. All the processes currently employed in solving a problem using design and development is analytical, rational, prescribed and convergent. Analytical in which we break problems up to study them. Rational in where we take an ordered approach. Prescribed where we can describe the approach and replicate it easily and finally convergent in where we start with available choices and work toward a single best solution. We have been experiencing processes like this ever since studying math or science at school.

What is design thinking?

Design Thinking is a problem solving technique. Not a process, not a phase, But a design thinking itself acts as a complete solution provider and it works best in case of problems which are mysteries as explained above. It acts as a solution for problems which are complex and ill-defined. Prominent Tools used for design thinking are Observation, ethnography, and interviews, synthesis question answer.

There are basically two major types of software product development solutions, one is utility solutions and another is strategic solutions. Utility solutions are those which are necessity and aid in existing workflows of some business domain, say finance apps, banking solutions etc… where as strategic solutions are one where the need is created and then luxury is converted to necessity. Considering current scenario, both utility and strategic solutions have evolved beyond basic requirements.

In these new age solutions, a whole suite of abilities have come into picture, which are like difficult to routinize, difficult to turn them into an algorithm, or a set of rules thus making them hard to outsource and hard to automate therefore more valuable. For e.g. design thinking, or a narrative or a story are tremendously overlooked and undervalued, pattern recognition, empathy [capacity to stand in someone’s shoes see with their eyes, feel with their hearts], giving a sense of meaning/purpose to a solution. These attributes are difficult to routinize and that makes them more difficult to implement.

Baeck & Gremett describe more about Core attribute of design thinking along with their description and their personal comments.

Attribute Description Comment
Ambiguity Being comfortable when things are unclear or when you don’t know the answer Design Thinking addresses wicked = ill-defined and tricky problems.
Collaborative Working together across disciplines People design in interdisciplinary teams.
Constructive Creating new ideas based on old ideas, which can also be the most successful ideas Design Thinking is a solution-based approach that looks for an improved future result.
Curiosity Being interested in things you don’t understand or perceiving things with fresh eyes Considerable time and effort is spent on clarifying the requirements. A large part of the problem solving activity, then, consists of problem definition and problem shaping.
Empathy Seeing and understanding things from your customers’ point of view The focus is on user needs (problem context).
Holistic Looking at the bigger context for the customer Design Thinking attempts to meet user needs and also drive business success.
Iterative A cyclical process where improvements are made a solution or idea regardless of the phase The Design Thinking process is typically non-sequential and may include feedback loops and cycles.
Nonjudgmental Creating ideas with no judgment toward the idea creator or the idea Particularly in the brainstorming phase, there are no early judgments.
Open mindset Embracing design thinking as an approach for any problem regardless of industry or scope The method encourages “outside the box thinking” (“wild ideas”); it defies the obvious and embraces a more experimental approach.

Design thinking talks of business model innovation rather than new products or ideas. It usually relates to solve something existing and modify the existing process rather than creating a whole new idea, and frankly speaking Frontiers of Business model innovation hasn’t been tried as frequently as the new product innovation.

This first draft is just to create an environment for the concept of design thinking. I will definitely relate the concept with examples [real time and proposed], but I hope I have been able to instigate a different thought/concept in you, to be continued…

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