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Wednesday, Sep 7th, 2016

Tiffany Hsu

The 5 Steps of Design Thinking

Design Thinking has spread quickly in the past five to ten years; from being a core philosophy for design firms, to a problem-solving methodology for a range of personal and business practices. The goals of Design Thinking are to understand your core user, identify an actionable problem, and arrive at a solution through open brainstorming and iterative prototyping.

Before starting the exercise, be prepared to utilize your team and your time effectively:

  • Acknowledge the different types of contributors on your team. At different points during the process, you can call on the strengths of each type. The following two are often applicable:

    • Openers: Those who tend to create and contribute ideas with ease. They naturally want to explore a breadth of options.

    • Finishers: Those who tend to trim options. They look for practical constraints that would prioritize some options over others.

  • Designate periods of time for each exercise. Less is more - you'll find the work that needs to be done will always fill up the amount of time allotted. Once time is up, move onto the next exercise.

  1. Empathize

    If you are solving a problem for someone other than yourself, take steps to understand your product's potential users. Namely, their needs, thoughts, feelings, motivations, and values. Most importantly, pay attention. If you are solving a problem for yourself, this is where you jot down all relevant issues you are experiencing with your current process.

    • Observe the users in an environment related to the product you are creating or problem you are solving.

    • Interview the users, or ideally, engage in comfortable conversation with them. Come prepared with questions, but allow the conversation to flow naturally.

    • Ask them to walk you through the activity you'd like to improve. Feel free to ask more questions to gain deeper insight.

  2. Define the right challenge

    Here, you can synthesize the information you've gathered, and define a problem statement that is both meaningful and actionable. The more focused you make your problem statement, the more effective your ideas and solutions will be.

    Start off by gathering your observations and breaking them down into bite-sized notes, such as Post-Its. Then, group your notes based on relevancy, and review them until you are able to:

    • Identify your core user

    • Define a need or limited set of needs you aim to fulfill

    • Express insights from all the information you have gathered

    You can then combine the above to craft a P.O.V. (point-of-view) that frames the problem, is focused and targeted, provides guidelines for evaluating ideas, and allows your team to work autonomously and simultaneously.
  3. Ideate

    Typically, we tend to jump from identifying problems to trying to realize the best solution. Instead, this step allows you to open the floodgates and generate as many ideas as possible. It's important that only one person speaks at a time, that everyone stays on topic, and that you keep a good pulse on the energy of the group.

    • Based on your problem statement, create a list of "How Might We" question topics that will guide your ideating process

    • Capture all ideas, and utilize techniques such as sketching and mind-mapping when applicable

    • Withhold judgment on all ideas, and build on each other's contributions

  4. Prototype

    Prototyping allows you to build iteratively, gathering feedback on quick, low-res models. Being able to build an interactive prototype as quickly as possible allows you to test, gather feedback, and make small changes without becoming attached to any one model. You can also create multiple prototypes in parallel.

  5. Test

    Prototyping and testing are interwoven steps which you and your team will jump between. Sometimes, the results and feedback gathered from these steps will lead you back to earlier steps. You and your team will develop a testing process that is suitable for your needs, however the following commonly apply:

    • Let the user handle the prototype without any guidance

    • Observe how your user interacts with it, and capture any response they might have

    • Allow them to test and compare multiple prototypes to better inform your final decision

  6. If you would like to understand Design Thinking in detail, check out the Stanford D. School's comprehensive coverage here