Design is the transformation of existing conditions into preferred ones. – The Science of the Artificial, Herbert Simon
We, humans, are surrounded by an endless number of obstacles. From our evolution, we are designing new tools to deal with such obstacles. We keep on designing and optimizing such tools. We design, test, and iterate every time to create an improved version of the tool in each iteration. Not only the tools(engineering) but similar patterns can be seen in different fields such as art, literature, music, and so on. The iterative approach of creating a solution to the problem by understanding both human (users’) needs and problems by prototyping and testing is known as design thinking. Carlgren et al. in their studies on companies have found design thinking could be themed as user focus, problem framing, visualization, experimentation, and diversity. User focus is a key theme found in all companies.
A design is successful only if it has a human as a central element by balancing other elements.
As mentioned above and pictured in the image, human-centered design can be a way to reach successful results in design processes. In his study, Lockwood (2010: 134) highlights empathy for the customer as the most important principle to focus on in design . It is important to understand customers’ articulated and unarticulated needs. Without deep empathy for and understanding of the customer, design thinking process is likely to lead to unfunctional or otherwise weaker results.
Understanding the customer puts human at the center of the design process. Another point of view is to see the design thinking practice and designers themselves playing a role that enhances human-centricity. The practice of design thinking tolerates failure, trial, and error in order to get results. (Kolko 2015)  It is, in a way, a more human and open-minded way of design. Human-centered design thinking is not only for humans but also from humans.
Anyone who wants to solve any human problem could be a design thinker. Design thinking is a cognitive process that forces a designer to answer four questions for a problem:
What is? What if? What wows? What works?
What is the initial step of the design thinking process. In this step, designer (or team) begins with design brief, scope of the project and intent. In this phase, we can use different tools such as visualization, journey mapping, value chain analysis and mind mapping. Diagram shows intent map created in class to make the act of wasting more visible to make University more sustainable. This phase will help us to frame the problem and create insight of the problem by placing user in center. It will help to know the constraints that shape the solutions and criteria to define success.
In what if, team will ask all the possible questions to unlock all the possible doors for the solutions. The diverse team will help to analyze and glance problem for all possible angles and lens. It is divergent process where is no limitation on the possible solutions. This process is followed by the convergent process in which all the list possible solutions are ranked and evaluated. For an example, in intent described above we used evaluation matrix to arrange collected ideas in feasibility and impact axis as shown in figure.
To find out what wows, it is needed to test the idea in question, which can be done via assumption testing and prototyping. The team must come up with the most central assumptions and test them. Initial stages of testing can involve only thinking and be done as thought experiments, after which there can be also physical experiments. In prototyping, the team builds a visual or experimental prototype of the concept to test. As an example, in the project described above, we prototyped the idea with legos to materialize and test our idea in an experimental way.
This is the final stage of a design thinking process, which aims to differentiate inventions from innovations. Customer co-creations are one tool to find out what works. It means collaboration with potential customers, having them try out the prototypes, and observing their reactions. Finally, a product or service can be beta tested in the marketplace. As a practical example, we asked other students to test the lego prototype, observed their reactions, and asked for their feedback all to develop the idea.
“Design thinking is an essential tool for simplifying and humanizing. It can’t be extra; it needs to be a core competence.” – Jon Kolko 
Written by Service Innovation and Design MBA students Shishir Bhattarai and A.H.
- Rikke Friis Dam & Teo Yu Siang (2022). What is design thinking and why is it so popular. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/what-is-design-thinking-and-why-is-it-so-popular
- Carlgren, L., Rauth, I. & Elmquist., M. (2016). Framing Design Thinking: The Concept in Idea and Enactment. Creativity and Innovation Management, Vol. 25, Nr. 1. 38-57.
- Lockwood, Thomas (ed. by) (2010). Design thinking: integrating innovation, customer experience and brand value. New York: Allworth Press.
- Kolko, J. (2015). Design thinking comes of age. The approach, once used primarily in product design, is now infusing corporate culture. Harvard Business Review, September 2015, 66-71.
- Liedtka, Jeanne & Ogilvie, Tim (2011). Designing for growth: a design thinking tool kit for managers. New York: Columbia University Press.
Gallery: Images from university workshop