Putting Design Thinking to Use in Your Organization

Today’s post, the second in a two-part-series on design thinking, comes to us from Cecily Tyler, Program Manager, Human Insights at Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG). Since earning her M.P.A. at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2016, Cecily has served as a Fellow at the Harvard Innovation Lab at the Harvard Business School, and at the Innovation Field Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

In my previous post on design thinking, I wrote about what design thinking is and how I came to believe in it as a useful framework for enabling innovation. Today’s post will give you the nuts and bolts of actually using the deign thinking process.

The design thinking framework aids in building compassion for the end user. Design thinking, as Tim Brown has defined it, “is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” It helps us with the process of integral inquiry: asking about the problem, asking others and ourselves to consider implicit assumptions and avoid skewed past learning. It makes room for uncertainty, and ill-defined challenges. In this way, we can build the car while driving it, for example, the Danish design agency Hatch and Bloom’s created The Good Kitchen using design thinking and during the pandemic Rapid Design Thinking [was used] to Overcome COVID-19 Challenges in Medical Education.These are now living stories of innovation that are grounded in the integrity of thoughtful innovation.

The Design Thinking Framework:

The design thinking framework components vary at times but generally reflect Nobel Prize laureate, Herbert Simon’s concepts in The Sciences of the Artificial 1969. Below is a popular 5-point outline taught by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.

  1. Understand and empathize with your end users via ethnographic and desk research.
    • Build trust with your users from the start. Do not tell them, show them you care about their needs, not a skewed perception of their needs.
    • Outcomes:
      • Legitimate knowledge of the problem definition
      • Identify the problem adjustment outcomes and how to measure them
      • Establish your stakeholders and roles
      • A process map: understand the journey of the current challenge—the functional and dysfunctional aspects—for which the solution is needed.
  2. Synthesize and define a POV statement for your users’ challenge:
    • More narrowly define the challenge you are taking on, based on problem definition findings.
    • Craft a meaningful, actionable problem statement to yield more high-end and meaningful solutions.
    • Outcomes:
      • A meaningful POV
  3. Ideate –challenge assumptions and create ideas for innovative solutions
    • Collectively establish Rules of Engagement (Trust Building)
    • Step beyond obvious solutions
    • Harness collective perspectives
    • Uncover unexpected area of exploration
    • Use a whiteboard: put out as many concepts as possible in the ideation stage
    • Create the HMW (How Might We)
    • Explore a wide solution space –a large quantity of ideas + a diversity among those ideas. Avoid criticism and close-mindedness at this stage.
    • Generate radical design alternatives
    • Outcomes:
      • A Post-it viewing: the team IDs top ideas (while holding onto all ideas)
      • Organize Concepts: approximately 4 categories to organize sections
      • Mix-n-match the solution: physical, digital, experience prototypes
      • Clear variables: ensure effective questions for testing your prototype on your users?
  4. Prototype and Test: start creating solutions
    • Deepen the users’ understanding with on-the-ground testing
    • Test: get closer to a solution by solving conflicting perspectives and eliminate non-starters
    • Take out implicit learning/biases between the designers and product, make the product effective for the users’ needs, not a perceived need
    • Make this quick/simple/interactive and inspiring
    • Fake functionality via PowerPoint, Storyboard, imitate a website, or theatrical usage
    • Outcomes
      • Create fake functionality to test with Users
      • Documentation of testing factors, close the problem gap, establish solutions
      • Space for iteration—keep tweaking as you learn more from the user
      • Prototype at the resolution of your idea. “Wizard-of-Oz prototype

There are additional stages that have proven to level-up the success of a design thinking Lab:

  • Continue to Iterate as needed (rounds 2 and 3…)
  • Share the story of your work
  • Pilot your work
  • Create a business model

Design thinking capacity in companies is now a proven commodity. It certainly is not a requirement for companies, however those who have chosen not to use it offer cautionary tales

Yet, this is a lot to take in and bring to life in your company, even in your team. To understand any framework (or method) is one step; to implement it – that is a whole next step and often much more challenging. The art of implementation is where the operations, creativity and effective strategies are required.

I suggest making an easily accessible copy for yourself of the framework that I outlined above or to find another design thinking framework out there on the internet that fits your learning style better. You can also find many design thinking courses, some better than others.

To start the practice of design thinking, begin with yourself; become familiar with the first steps and basic actions needed to bring the process to life. Then, perhaps ask a trusted colleague to join in the process. Start learning in small steps and scale up. Ask a third trusted colleague. When you three feel comfortable, share it more broadly.

Design thinking is simply one way to embrace the messiness that invention, innovation, and creative thinking require to produce higher yielding outcomes. These practices have been around much longer than design thinking and are innately a part of our makeup. We all know how to be innovative, sometimes it’s simply that we are rusty at the process. If you start small, you can implement the design thinking methodology thoughtfully and wisely which is critical for fruitful results in your work.

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