As someone working in a user-focused role, you know better than most about the incredibly important role that design plays in our lives. As you know, from the way we drive our cars and navigate our streets to the choices we make in our software and technology, design influences nearly every decision we make during a typical workday.
But you might not have heard about a popular process that is moving from design-centric teams to teams tackling all kinds of different projects. This process is called design thinking, and it might help you transform your own collaborations for the better.
At its most basic, design thinking is a process that was first used by designers working on solutions to complex problems. Luckily, it’s adaptable to many other industries, projects, and tasks. In a nutshell, design thinking is comprised of five basic steps that can be adjusted based on the type of problem you’re trying to solve.
These steps include:
Observation: One of the best ways to identify a solution to a problem is to observe what’s actually going on first. How are your users—whether they are your product’s customers or your own colleagues—tackling this problem now? What are their pain points that make solving the problem difficult? What do the users themselves want and need? This phase can include user interviews and open-ended discussion to better understand areas for improvement.
Interpretation: Once you’ve had a chance to observe the problem and the way your users are currently tackling the issue, start to think about what you’ve seen, heard, and noticed. Try to boil your findings down into a few key phrases that sum up the challenges facing your users, as well as the reason you are tackling the project in the first place. This will help you clarify your thinking before you embark on trying to solve the problem.
Ideation: Now comes the fun part! Get together with your colleagues and brainstorm as many possible solutions to the problem in front of you as possible. In this phase, there are no right and wrong answers, just the opportunity to think of ways to solve the pain points you’ve identified in the first phase. From “blue sky” ideas to practical solutions, just keep generating ideas until you’ve compiled a long and diverse list.
Prototyping: Take a look over your list of ideas and start to cut those that aren’t realistic, can’t be accomplished given your time and resources, or are impractical. Pick a handful of promising ideas and figure out a way to prototype them by allowing real people to test them out and give you vital feedback. This is a chance to see firsthand if your initial ideas might be feasible in the long run.
Refining: With your feedback in hand, start to modify your ideas to better fit the needs of your users. This could involve discarding ideas altogether or changing them to make them fit better with your users’ workflow or expectations. The goal in this phase is to start to refine and shape your ideas to become actionable solutions that could be put into place long-term.
Design thinking is a robust and flexible process that can add a much-needed structure to your next project or troubleshooting effort. Give it a try on your next project and incorporate a tried-and-true design workflow into your own.