Innovation through human-centred design thinking

General Assembly hosted a weeklong event called “break into tech” from 16th to 22nd of February 2021. One of the events that caught my attention was “Innovation through Human-Centered Design Thinking”.

The host was Steph Mellor, a coach and consult in human-centred design, ethnography, leadership and change. She’s also a Principal at DigIO, Design and UX instructor at General Assembly.

This was a truly insightful and useful event to follow. Steph answered the most common questions that might come to mind when thinking about design-thinking: what it is, when should we use it, why we need it, how to begin the process, what do we need, and how to utilise Design councils double-diamond framework, so it provides value and right solutions.

What it is

To summarise what the double-diamond framework is all about, here’s a short list:

  • It can be applied to any design, service, product, UX etc.
  • It is a creative problem-solving approach where innovation is the result
  • Emphasis is on understanding the problem thoroughly before attempting a solution
  • Explorative, iterative and collaborative
  • Honours human experience and responds to human behaviour and intuition
  • Design the right thing, then design the thing right
  • Spending equal time on each part of the diamond.

Steph pointed out that when people learn about design thinking – they try design thinking on everything. Innovations don’t always come from design thinking – or we could say you cannot force innovations through design thinking.

When should we use it

Design thinking should be applied when problems are complex and there are people involved. For instance, we don’t need to design-think our way through how to get fuel into our car since it is a straightforward problem with a relatively straight forward solution (simple)

Source: Drawing change

But when adding humans, the situation is always at least complex.

In the end, the process will get you somewhere useful, even though the beginning might feel difficult and frustrating.

Why we need it

First of all, the design thinking process and results should not shift the original problem somewhere else. The idea is to solve the problem. It also provides us with a better understanding of how people behave, and we must design according to their behaviour – not how we wish for them to behave.

How to begin with the design thinking process

We will go through the double-diamond process in this section. Starting with the discover and define phase.

Souce: Wikipedia

The design thinking process begins with a designerly mindset. You need to be empathetic, human-centred, inclusive, collaborative and ego-less with an agile and iterative mindset. You also need to be ready to observe and learn during the process and give away your “power”.

You also need to conduct design research. Design research is

  • Not academic or scientific research
  • Not statistical research
  • Not investigative journalism
  • Not interrogation

But common research techniques are, for example, contextual inquiry, observation or shadowing, surveys and questionnaires, usability or interactivity tests, facilitated workshops, journey or relationship mapping, etc. It’s about asking the right questions and having good listening skills (don’t respond or correct).

Also, since we’re trying to learn and uncover the needs, preferences and expectations, we can conduct experiments and scenarios, ideal futures or simple likes and dislikes.

The key to starting the design process is to begin with the question: what do we want to know, and then we ask: who might have the answers. Quite often, people fail into the trap of starting from the second question – and end up with the wrong type of solution. But when you have successfully collected the data, it’s time to put it all together and define the problem. The end result is that you have found the answer to your question, which addresses the people for whom you’re designing.

The last diamond in the double-diamond process concentrates on the develop and deliver phase.

During the developing phase, you need to be inclusive, collaborative, and creative. Focusing on the “what” and not on the “how”. The goal is to come up with as many ideas as possible. The ideas need to be desirable, viable and feasible. Additionally, innovations come from creative problem solving, and this is how design thinking breaks through. When you’ve gathered all your ideas, you can process them similarly like you’ve processes your research data. Just be careful of your biases.

Finally, we get into the last phase: deliver. The key to this phase is to do fast and cheap prototypes, which allow you to fail early. That’s why it’s a prototype, so you have room for improvements and adjustments. When people are trying the solution, your task is not to sell, persuade, or convince people. You need to listen to their feedback, and it’s better to ask questions rather than giving them answers. If the tester asks: “what does this button do?” you don’t give the answer. You ask: “what do you expect it to do?”. Learn and don’t correct.

Not all innovations are glamorous, and most of them are small and quiet. They don’t need to be revolutionary since the idea is to provide value and help people.

Post by: Tereza Dickson
Current Topics in Service Design.

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