The old saying that you should ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ to understand what they are going through is really the essence of what design thinking is all about. If the goal is to design a technology solution to a customer problem, it makes a great deal of sense to go the extra mile to understand that problem from their perspective. A design thinking approach puts empathy for the end user foremost in problem solving.
“Empathy for the customer’s problems is at the center of a good design. If the solution is empathetic, people are more likely to want to engage with the design. They will then be more willing to fall in line with the solution that emerges,” said Pierre Enriquez, Scrum Master at TDK Technologies.
Design Thinking Process: Explore, Create, Implement
The design thinking framework has three components, which Enriquez said are simple and powerful when used together. The design thinking process – Explore, Create, Implement - is especially effective for solving unstructured problems that require innovation. Enriquez said it is very important to deal with the human, technical and business model realities of the situation to realize the full potential of the framework.
“It all starts with people, who require the solution that emerges be desirable. So, we need to probe to see what the people using the tool are trying to solve,” Enriquez said. “But we must also solve the problem in a technically feasible way and in a way that is viable to the business. When all these intersect, innovation is the result.”
The Explore phase of design thinking involves developing empathy with the customer’s problems. This means asking lots of questions to understand the problem from the user’s point of view. It is also important to develop a deep understanding from everyone who is associated with the problem – including the user, the creator, or the designer. Enriquez said it is important to visualize everything at this stage and recommends using visualization tools to make sure all aspects are considered.
“That is at the center of design thinking. Visualize. Visualize the end goal," Enriquez said. "Start that process by asking what needs to change and why. And make sure all ideas are encouraged. Sometimes we forget to ask the hard questions. Ask why certain processes are in place, for example. What value does it give to the end user?”
Once empathy is established, resulting in a well-rounded framing of the problem, it is time to create concepts. Enriquez said it is important to come up with a lot of different options. And again, visualizing the concepts is important. When concepts are visualized or graphical, they tend to be more powerful and more accurately understood.
“You will notice that after the second or the third idea, viable ideas will be in short supply. So, think outside the box and consider everything. Many ideas are not innovative, but are rather the next logical step in something,” Enriquez said. “You must look at ideas that are latent leaning. Those can be the beginning of innovation. If those ideas are not fully explored, innovation may get lost.”
The idea that emerges is next turned into a rapid prototype; a quickly conceived working model to place in the hands of users for fast feedback. Adjustments are made for more rapid prototypes that move toward the best solution. This approach leans on the fundamental principle to ‘fail fast to succeed early’, which can be a significant mindset change compared to an approach where a single solution is offered at the end of an extensive analytical process.
“The prototypes don’t have to be full-blown. You don’t need a 3-D printer. You can just sketch something out and ask if it’s close to what you are thinking about,” Enriquez said. “It’s a great way to really rule out ideas that don’t work or don’t solve the problem. It’s a way to get continuous feedback to see if the process is on the right track or if it needs adjusting.”
Enriquez said the result of the design thinking process -- Explore, Create and Implement -- delivers well-rounded and sustainable solutions when it is applied to the people, technology and business model of an organization. But he said having all three elements be part of the process is often difficult, which is why many organizations have not embraced design thinking.
“That is especially true in cases where people can’t let go of the past. Change management can be almost impossible in certain companies, where people refuse to let go of processes that have been in place. Sometimes, they are their own worst enemy when that is the case,” Enriquez said.
Design thinking can be beneficial as part of an agile software development approach. Like agile, design thinking is an iterative process that gets closer to the desired result each time a new prototype is refined. With empathy for the end user, innovation can be the ultimate result.