Design Thinking: Beyond The Post-Its And Jazzy Whiteboards

I recently had an opportunity to attend a design thinking workshop at a reputed consulting and cloud company. The session set me thinking. If there is one concept that is ruling every CXO deck that is being presented anywhere, it must be design thinking. But then it is also the most misunderstood and oft misused term in current corporate parlance. Is it really just about Post-Its and Jazzy Whiteboards? Let us see.

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Okay, the basics first. What is design thinking? How can we make the most of it? Is it a methodology or a philosophy? Well, in my opinion, and from what I have gathered talking to many CEOs, design thinking is a systematic approach to handling problems and generating new opportunities. The idea and approach makes sense and ultimately adds value to any field and purpose. For example, if you want to build a new product or customer experience or even take the business to the next level, this approach touches everywhere and hence will be indispensable. It is seen that the design principles contribute significantly in elevating the success rate for innovation.

It is a very prevalent and common misconception that design thinking is new and totally radical. Design has been practiced for ages: monuments, bridges, automobiles, subway systems are all end-products of design processes. Throughout history, good designers have applied a human-centric creative process to build meaningful and effective solutions. So essentially,it is just a paradigm shift in the way we do things.

The design-thinking framework follows an overall flow of 1) understand, 2) explore, and 3) materialize. Within these larger buckets fall the 6 phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, and implement.

Now that we have the definitions out of the way, let us get on to the matter on hand. The whole concept has now become pretty much a cliche that has sort of become synonymous with presentations, post-its or jazzy whiteboards that are littered with lines and arrows. While all that is certainly there to show, there is more to design thinking than that.

As a process, it starts with understanding clearly what it is that you are trying to solve and then thinking of or exploring various aspects, approaches and finally materialize a way to solve the issue that is a win-win-win. It begins with empathy first and then everything else follows. You put yourself in the shoes of the end user and walk the proverbial mile, there you will uncover perspective and even hitherto unknown issues and approaches to solving the problem. One of the key things that you will uncover is the problems and issues that are very unique and sometimes tied to boundary conditions that would have otherwise escaped your attention if you had taken the classical or legacy approach to problem solving.

The whole USP is the fact that you will discover the key persona that is going to be in the driver seat of the solution and is tasked with the actual problem that you are looking at. The focal area is to look at this persona from all angles, list our everything. For instance, if you are looking at a pilot who flies a plane, it will be pertinent to study everything from behavior patterns to regional biases to even nuances like gestures. As they say, God is in the details and there is no saying which detail gets you to the breakthrough that will get the job done.

The other area is the composition of the team that sets out to do this exercise, it is imperative that the group does not comprise only of technical folks, you need to ensure that people who are experts at every domain or skill that is part of the problem definition are involved and at all stages actively brainstorming and evaluating the solution and the way to get to it. This has to be as close to the real world group that is facing and working with the issue.

So what I am trying to say is, there is more to design thinking than just post-its and whiteboards, It is a way of approaching a problem, finding the key factors and then looking at hurdles thereof. What it does is that technology is abstracted and the scenario is in the centre stage. Effective use of this method can have dramatically good effect on overall results. So done well, it can take you miles ahead of the competition.