Sometimes it’s the little things that spark our interest for something new. For me, my interest in Design Thinking started at the beginning of the pandemic. I was at a restaurant and because the table was small, I asked the waiter to take the cutlery paper bag away. He seemed surprised and reminded me of the latest use for a paper bag … you can store your mask in it. It’s amazing how we find workarounds for new challenges and then later those evolve to become a well-thought of solution. So, that day, when I got home, I opened my laptop and typed “Design Thinking”…
This article is dedicated to all of you that are curious about this topic. If you are like me, still learning the basics, you are already intrigued by the relevance of this subject and looking for ways to learn more. The first thing that I realized was that Design Thinking is not only for designers. Design Thinking is actually a creative process to resolve problems that anyone can use. Furthermore, many of us should consider it as part of our process to solve problems. Whether you are a developer, an analyst or a tester you will find yourself in situations that are a potential innovation opportunity where Design Thinking can play an important role. It doesn’t matter what your role is, you only need to pay attention to your surroundings.
In this article, I’m not looking to cover this topic in-depth but rather to raise awareness for possible hidden or unspoken needs that our customers have. In addition, there is a good chance you already are doing some of these things in an intuitive way and hopefully this will give you some advice to improve. To get started let’s take a look at the steps in the Design Thinking process:
The Design Thinking Process
IDEO, a global design company, is the father of this methodology. According to their CEO, Sandy Speicher “Design thinking is not limited to a process. It’s an endlessly expanding investigation."
The IDEO process is split into six steps that are repeatable, scalable and, although they are thought of as linear phases, they are not always used in the same order, it depends on each case that is being treated.
1. Frame a Question – Identify the right problem to solve. This is very important to create focus.
2. Gather Inspiration – Go out and see the world. Discover what people really need. Understand the behaviors and the “why” of those behaviors to find the insights.
3. Generate Ideas – It is time to create ideas for innovative solutions. Think outside the box and come up with new ideas.
4. Make Ideas Tangible – Build rough prototypes and find what is working and what is not.
5. Test to Learn – Test your prototype, collect feedback, and iterate. The key is to learn.
6. Share the Story – If you think that you have arrived at the right solution this is the moment to share it. Tell the story of how you got there.
This Design Thinking process is known as the double diamond. The two diamonds represent the process of exploring an issue more widely or deeply (divergent thinking) and then taking focused action (convergent thinking).
The process starts with divergent thinking in the first phase, called the discovery. In this phase, you define your need and work to get some inspiration. You need to create empathy with people so that you can get valuable information about their behaviors. You can either interview or shadow them to observe how they behave. Note, building trust is key. In this phase, you can also explore parallel realities to understand what characterizes the different contexts and identify the similarities.
These are just two examples of how to gather inspiration but there are many others.
In the second phase, it is time to do convergent thinking. You need to gather insights, understand what is driving people’s behaviors and try to find new opportunities for innovation, improvement, etc.
Once that is done you can start phase three with divergent thinking again. Here you start building ideas. But remember, for this step, no idea is wrong, it is the time to mention all things, even if they seem absurd to you. Often this is called brainstorming. The goal is quantity, not quality. You are looking for thinking outside the box and building on top of each other’s ideas. Say, "Yes, and…", instead of "Yes, but…".
In the final step, it is time to do convergent thinking again, filtering the ideas that you had in the last phase or even merge ideas to come up with better possible outcomes. With the ideas that you think are most credible, you are going to do a prototype. The goal is to come up with a simple, low-tech prototype to get feedback. With that, you will know if you have the solution to your problem or if you need to go back and redo some steps.
Here are some examples of Design Thinking in action:
A pharmaceutical company noticed that some of their patients adopted “apparently strange strategies” to take their medicine. Thus, they decided to investigate via interviews to better understand what was happening. They started following the daily steps of their patients with an open mind - in observation mode. With one specific patient they noticed that when it was time to take her pills, she would use a ham slicer to open the bottle. It seemed strange, they did not understand why she did it so they asked more questions to understand the issue. They learned that the bottle’s easy-open mechanism could not be used by all patients. Some patients with rheumatoid arthritis were not able to use the easy opening top like the rest of us and so this patient decided to use a workaround to solve her problem. The solution was to find a new easy opening top and test it with patients that suffer from this condition to make sure it could be used by all.
Another famous example related to rheumatoid arthritis and design thinking comes from the OXO company, a kitchen tools manufacturer. You can find this story on their website “OXO was born of love. Our founder Sam Farber designed the first OXO peeler for a pair of hands he loved more than his own. Sam and his wife Betsey were cooking together when Betsey’s mild arthritis made using old-fashioned metal peeler a struggle. They knew there had to be a better way. They created the now-iconic OXO handle—with its distinctive ergonomic form and signature non-slip grip—and paired it with a sharp stainless-steel blade. OXO was born, and the brand changed the way we prepare food—and think of household tools— forever.”
Here is another example from a hospital facility. Once they started performing patient satisfaction surveys, they concluded that a major pain point was related to waiting times. Some patients mentioned waiting lines to do the check-in, while others complained of waiting times at the end of the appointment or the time to make payment. The hospital searched for other companies that have the same problem in order to try to find innovative solutions. They found the solution in a Disney theme park! You may wonder what do these two companies have in common? But if you look closer, Disney has a lot of clients per day, it doesn’t have many waiting lines and the customers are always satisfied after their visit. Disney has an integrated network where the customer can book their meals in a restaurant of their choice, select what they want to eat, schedule their position in the queue for each entertainment without standing long hours in waiting lines. The solution that this hospital adopted was to implement machines at the entrance of the building where the client can confirm their appointments/exams and even make their payments without having to go to the reception. With this system, they started to have small waiting lines and the satisfaction of the clients increased dramatically.
There are many, many examples from different industries. Just to wrap up another example comes from BMW who already started to introduce design thinking processes inside their organization. They were searching for a new, easy way to use the applications/services that they make available in cars without distracting the driver and found a solution from the video-game community, evolving the joystick idea that already exists in most console controls.
Just one last teaser. Do you know the similarities between a hospital surgery room and a Formula 1 pit stop? You can find it in this article How Formula 1 and other 'extreme contexts' inform breakthrough innovations [Case Studies] - Disruptor League.
As you can see through these examples, Design Thinking is everywhere, and it is a big world. It can be used in any area and at any time, whether in a professional or personal environment. All you need to do is pay attention and question everything that at first might seem strange to you. Try to understand why workarounds are being used, how they make sense and why this was needed in the first place. Turn on your radar. Start looking for workarounds, surprises, hidden passions and unspoken pain points. Who knows where the next big disruptive innovation is going to come from?
References & Where to Learn More
- Efeito Medici, Frans Johansson, 2007