An approach to innovation that has become popular in organizations recently is design thinking. Simply put, it is a creative, emphatic and active way to find and test new ideas. You can use it to design a process or service as well as a product.
Photo: thinkpublic on Flickr
Design thinking works in a safe environment where you can try out new ideas. Crazy ideas are fragile and they need to be protected well in order to grow and work, design thinking can help you do that. It also has a lot to do with aliveness, with having fun and building something together.
Steps in Design Thinking
Some people use the following steps in the process:
- Understand – doing some research to understand the situation from different perspectives
- Observe – interview people, observe their actions in order to discover their needs
- Define – give words to the situation, develop a central question to answer (e.g. ‘how might we….?’)
- Ideate – coming up with many new ideas, brainstorming
- Prototype – building ‘an idea’ to help you think about it, visualising it any way possible
- Test – have a conversation about your prototype, try it out to see how it works
Interviews can be part of the understanding and observing process.
Time pressure can help you to go from idea to prototype within minutes.
What works in design thinking is that it helps you to create something new based on the needs of the people you’re designing for. The research part (understanding, observing, defining) really helps you to focus in your creative brainstorm afterwards. What also works well is building prototypes that help you to think and talk about your idea, making it more tangible along the way.
Talking about a prototype makes it easier to understand each others ideas.
Tools & methods
The approach itself has a lot of methods that you can use to ‘design’ a process or service. If you’re looking for practical tools and activities, you can download the Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators or try out some of the design thinking methods from the d.school at Stanford University. You can also read about some design thinking exercises we did at Kessels & Smit on our company blog.
Example: Emily Pilloton
A really nice example of using design thinking is the story of Emily Pilloton and the work she does in the rural community of Bertie County, North Carolina. She is redesigning the schools there together with (rather than for) the pupils and the community. Listen to her story as she told it during a TED conference:
Spaces for design thinking
There is a lot to say about buildings, rooms & spaces for design thinking – too much for this blog post. You’ll soon read about it here!
The photos in this post were taken by Elias Barrasch.