The processes that Design Thinking follows can be best described as developing deep consumer insights, rapid prototyping and seeking radical innovation as well as empowering teams to be innovative.
The first goal of Design Thinking is to understand what is meaningful to consumer and discover unarticulated needs. Next to bring clarity to the gathered data by producing rapid prototypes, using mock-ups, storyboards, storytelling method, user testing, and even by acting out concepts and services. The intent is to reduce the risk of failure and accelerate organizational learning as an iterative process.
Design thinking methodology consists of three phases. While some call them gears, Tim Brown has named them as the ‘Phases of the Innovation Process: Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation’.
The inspiration phase requires different sets of skills and methods to achieve market insights, contrary to traditionally market researches and surveys that most of the practitioners used to apply. In order to formulate problem statements, designers look to people’s behaviour for the insights they need. Specifically, observation and empathy are the complementary elements of the inspiration phase. These newly offered methods can be considered as more ethnographic, qualitative methods, that designers tend to use to help explore and generate new ideas.
Empathy can be explained as putting yourself into the customer’s shoes in order to understand not only the physical experiences of consumers, but also cognitive and emotional experiences. In addition, observation is the other important element of inspiration phase of Design Thinking. Observing the actual experiences of people in their regular daily lives can yield valuable hints to discover their unspoken needs.
As a successful chief designer of an American company once stated, “The minute you start analyzing and using consumer research, you drive all the creativity out of the product”, he adds “No good product was ever created from quantitative market research. Great products spring from the heart and soul of a great designer, unencumbered by committees, processes or analyses”. Arguments of Brown and Katz state clear support for his remark: “Traditional techniques such as focus groups and surveys, which in most cases simply ask people what they want, rarely yield important insights”.
II. Ideation Phase: Building to Think
Ideation is the second proposed phase of Design Thinking and its main element is brainstorming. As important as brainstorming is, generating game-changing ideas through divergent and convergent processes and building interdisciplinary teams, are also relevant for the success of ideation phase.
Design Thinking embodies both divergent and convergent thinking, which can also be described as analysis and synthesis. Incorporating these two distinctly thinking ways is basically a transition from creating and making choices to choosing amongst the alternatives that have been created through synthesis and divergent thinking. As is mentioned in Tim Brown’s book, Change by Design these are “the seeds of design-thinking, a continuous movement between divergent and convergent processes, on the one hand, and between the analytical and synthetic, on the other”.
An important distinction needed here to mention is, contrary to traditional project groups’ formations; Design Thinking mentions the importance of interdisciplinary groups instead of multidisciplinary ones. The reasons behind this are that in interdisciplinary groups everyone who takes place in the group shares the collective responsibilities, as is high-lightened by Coughlan and Prokopoff ‘’the design of the system is no longer contained in the head of a single individual or group- rather, it is emergent across multiple individuals or groups’’.
Nevertheless, it could be argued that having such a varied and rich source of disciplines can create problems to coordinate and integrate. However, as Tim Brown argues, brainstorming within interdisciplinary groups can produce faster and better ideas. Accordingly, creating prototypes is the other important contribution to Design Thinking.
Prototyping is a facilitator for brainstorming, as well as acquiring and improving ideas. As reinforced by Brown and Katz ‘’rapid prototyping allow us to make our ideas tangible faster so that we can evaluate, refine them and more importantly zero in on the best solution sooner’’.
As Coughlan and Prokopoff mentioned, prototyping can be useful for non- designers to experience design in a more tangible way before committing to a particular curse of action.
III. Implementation: Path from project room to the market
In the third and final phase of innovation; implementation, design-thinkers are mostly concerned with communicating an idea with ‘’sufficient clarity to gain acceptance across the organization, providing it, and showing that it will work in its intended market’’. However, many obstacles are usually presented at this stage; good ideas can be rejected by commercial restrictions or by a rigid organizational system. As is mentioned in Why Great Ideas Can Fail, “Successful products have to navigate a complex path. The idea and initial design is only one piece of the story”.
To mitigate this problem Tim Brown (2008) offers the story telling method; according to him, if organizations aim to increase the likeliness of survival of the idea, they need to address influential, clear, strong stories with their ideas. Well constructed, expertly communicated stories can help design thinkers to illustrate, show and build emotional links with the idea itself and the decision-makers to gain their commitment and support. With Tim Brown’s own words ‘’the human capacity for storytelling plays an important role in the intrinsically Human-Centred approach to problem solving’’.