The Essential Factors of Design Thinking

March 4, 2019

Design thinking

If your organization is like most, you’re probably under pressure to have higher output and generate more value, with less staff than you need and fewer resources than you used to have. You have a few choices: convince people you need to hire more, purchase new technologies to help you become a little more efficient, or innovate radically. Personally, I like to put my effort into the last option—it’s a lot more fun and yields much stronger results.

Innovative organizations can do more with less, adapt to worsening situations, and harness the creative talent and knowledge that’s often locked inside employees. And the more you practice techniques that lead to innovative solutions, the better you become at the skill of innovation. That skill is embodied in the discipline of design thinking.

Creating solutions through design thinking

Design thinking is a process, mindset, and set of techniques that you can learn to be more creative, analyze situations more clearly, and rapidly create solutions that go way beyond what others think is possible. Here are three important factors to know:

Design thinking is about having a user-centered mindset. Everything we make is meant to be used by someone. If you can see the world from the perspective of the people you’re designing for, you’ll make sure that creating the right experience for them leads the rest of the work.

Think about a time when you used a product and it worked the way you expected it to, even though you had never used it before. If you’ve had that experience, you’ve seen the work of design thinking in action. The people who made that experience for you considered many things about how you would encounter the product, and they probably worked very hard to make sure that each step you took made sense at the moment it needed to.

I’m sure you’ve also been frustrated by a product—something that was so bad you complained out loud that some person made a terrible mistake and it was causing you frustration. That’s a situation in which the people making the product didn’t use the principles of design thinking.

You can use design thinking to solve any problem. There is no magic to design thinking, and you don’t need to be an artist or work in a creative field to be successful at it. Design thinking is simply a process that ensures you don’t skip any steps that might prevent you from creating a great solution.

If you’re making a home-banking app, you’ll want to allow users to transfer funds from one account to another. When you create this solution, you will need to consider all the things that can go wrong so you can ensure they don’t when people use the app. One example would be a situation in which a user has several accounts with approximately the same amount in each one. Users may not be able to identify the accounts by their amounts, and they may not know which account numbers correspond to how the accounts are used. When you see this potential problem, you then consider all the ways to prevent it from happening and decide on the best one to use. One solution might be to give the accounts nicknames.

The most important step when addressing any problem is to challenge the underlying assumptions. When we’re presented with a problem, we often take it at face value that solving the problem is the right thing to do. However, if you take the time to challenge the assumptions baked into the problem, you may find that you have more alternative solutions than you first realized.

Consider this issue: Your rating for your company’s app fell significantly after its latest update. Your boss is upset and wants you to fix all the things that users are complaining about. One course of action is to do just that. Another is to analyze the feedback and determine if there was a change that loyal users didn’t expect but that you know from your research they will prefer when they get used to it. If that’s the case, you wouldn’t want to change the way the app works and may simply need to add an alert that lets users know what the change is and how to use it effectively—a change that might take only a day to make and will satisfy the users.

When someone gives you a problem, answer the question “Why is it a problem?” You might learn a lot more about the problem that helps you solve it with more impact.

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About The Author

Blade Kotelly is an innovation and user-experience expert and a senior lecturer at MIT on design thinking and innovation. Kotelly’s consulting services ( help top brands to innovate radically on their products and services and teach corporate teams how to create solutions that customers love.

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