Design thinking – an influential combination of tools, methods and a mindset

by Jenni Leppänen

Design thinking has gained worldwide hype over the past decade. Its tools and methods are being discussed and implemented also in many fields not traditionally seen as designing fields, e.g. services. Design thinking is defined as a “process of continuously redesigning a business using insight derived from customer intimacy” (Jeanne Liedtka 2014). There’s nothing new in focusing on the customer’s needs and adapting one’s offering accordingly, so what’s all the hype about?

Gathering in-depth insight

Design thinking makes its mission to truly understand the customer and his world. Doing a round of customer satisfaction surveys online once a year is not sufficient – in the design thinking approach you put a lot of effort in gathering in-depth information from your customers on an ongoing basis. In other words, you need to procure and maintain a holistic understanding of your customer’s context, activities, practices and experiences. To truly understand how the business’s current and possible future offering appear in the customers’ context, you invite them to co-create the services with you. There are dozens of tools available – a great summary is the practical “Evolution 6^2” model, the Innovation & Design Thinking Model by Katja Tschimmel.

Evolution 6-2

E6^2 introduces altogether 36 tools in each phase of the whole design process:

  • Emergence (of a challenge and an opportunity),
  • Empathy (towards the customer in his context),
  • Experimentation (for generating ideas and concepts),
  • Elaboration (on solutions),
  • Exposition (visually presenting the new solution) and
  • Extension (implementing the solutions).

The list includes many wide-spread tools, such as interviewing, user journey maps and questionnaires, and also innovative tools, such as intent statement, insight map and evaluation matrix. The templates are available on Pinterest of Mindshake Portugal.

More focused collaboration

However, knowing the tools is not enough to alone explain the success of design thinking. A successful designer has a mindset that supports the design process and implementation of tools. As an example, in the beginning of the development phase, you are expected to be optimistic, curious and playful – to throw in ideas on the ideal world, with no rules or limitations for imagination. Traditionally, the so-called “engineering mind” would jump quickly into assessing the feasibility of the idea, but a “designer mind” would explore future possibilities in different directions, against stereotypes.

Design thinking is all about collaboration. According to Liedtka, “the highest payoff from adopting a design-thinking approach was not necessarily in identifying a solution, but rather in innovating how people worked together to envision and implement the new possibilities they discovered”. In the organizations Liedtka studied, team members stayed longer with the problem, and examined the topic through various design tools and methods. Having thorough research findings as a foundation made positive behavioral changes in the way teams worked together: team members listened to each other to truly understand their colleague’s perspectives, and to build on them – there was no need to guess and argue over your personal perception on the customer’s preferences. The focus therefore was on envisioning new possibilities together, instead of searching for weaknesses in others’ ideas and strengths in their favorite suggestions. Empathy towards the customer also helped gain focus and speed.

Learning opportunities

Another key word in design thinking is iteration. Instead of spending time on perfecting an action plan with your colleagues, you start small and experiment early on with various concepts and prototypes. It is quicker and cheaper to fail early, although failing in front of actual customers might seem discouraging. In the book “Creative Confidence” Tom and David Kelley (2013) argue that we all are creative, but many people don’t have the confidence to even try experimenting something new, as the prospect of failure is too paralyzing. In the iterative design thinking every experience is an opportunity you can learn from. Failures are crucial for innovation, and it is the only way to create something very new. Tolerance of mistakes is increased, and confidence in being creative boosted, when practicing and experimenting becomes a part of your daily life. You also gain small successful experiences. “Like a muscle, your creative abilities will grow and strengthen with practice. Continuing to exercise them will keep them in shape.”

 

References:

Tschimmel, Katja. 2018. E.62 Mindshake – Innovation & Design Thinking Model

Liedtka, Jeanne. 2014. Innovative ways companies are using design thinking. Strategy & Leadership. Vol. 42 No. 2 2014, pp. 40-45, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Kelley, David and Kelley, Tom. 2013. Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. Crown Business.

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