What is design thinking? An agile method for innovation


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Design thinking definition

Design thinking is an agile, iterative process for design and innovation that centers users’ desires and needs, and enables your company to pivot as the industry changes and technology evolves. Design thinking acknowledges that there isn’t one way to solve a problem. Instead the methodology encourages questioning, experimenting, observing, and innovating in an environment that embraces diverse opinions and ideas.

With design thinking, you won’t rely on traditional corporate hierarchy for ideas and approval. Instead, you’ll foster a culture that encourages employees to challenge corporate traditions and facilitates smart, calculated risks.

Design thinking benefits

One of the biggest draws for implementing design thinking is that doing so can spur innovative ideas as your team cycles through the inspiration, ideation, and implementation phases, oftentimes hitting each cycle more than once as you develop new ideas and explore new solutions. Whereas most frameworks and ideologies are broken down into steps, design thinking isn’t meant to be approached in a rigid, orderly fashion. You can bounce between cycles and processes as you see fit, until the right solution and design are achieved.

As new technologies emerge, design thinking becomes an important means for turning these technologies into user-friendly services and products. Design thinking embraces the fast-paced change of technology with a positive outlook that considers every possibility, no matter how “out there” or creative it is. That attitude will be increasingly important as companies find new and exciting ways to make use of emerging technology.

Design thinking principles

Design thinking is used to create human-centered designs that are user-friendly, and to deliver the technology to users in a way that is intuitive and natural. There are a number of core principles that define design thinking. These aren’t meant to be step-by-step instructions for introducing design thinking to your company, but they are the principles on which your design thinking strategy should be founded.

  • Wicked problems: A phrase developed by design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, “wicked problems” stands for ill-defined or tricky issues that have unclear solutions and require creative thinking or nontraditional strategies to solve.
  • Problem framing: With design thinking, there is more than one way to view a problem. Problems aren’t taken at face value. Instead, they’re recontextualized and re-interpreted to find a solution.
  • Solution-focused thinking: Instead of focusing on problems, a design thinking model looks at solutions first, which can help improve understanding of the problem.
  • Abductive reasoning: This form of logical inference starts with an observation or set of observations and then asks you to find the simplest, most likely explanation for the problems observed. It’s an important style of reasoning that is used in design thinking to reframe problems or ideas to find several ways to address the problem or opportunity.
  • Co-evolution of problem and solution: When design thinkers work on a problem, they switch between thinking about the problem and looking at ideas for a solution to help come up with even more solution ideas.
  • Representations and modelling: Computer models and physical prototypes are used to identify requirements, which can sometimes be abstract, and to enable your team to test, refine, and evaluate new ideas.

Design thinking process

There are four main phases of design thinking that your team will cycle through while developing solutions and products. Rather than offering a detailed prescription to follow, design thinking provides a loose structure that you can interpret as needed for your business needs.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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