It has a captivating name and it generates a considerable appeal even in the companies that are more reluctant to innovation. Its trajectory of diffusion in business processes began in the nineties (although the genesis of the term is much older), but the Design Thinking is experiencing the peak of its notoriety only now. The hype produced around this method can be felt based on the exponential increase in the articles, courses, and events dedicated to it. The analysis of the research of this term on Google shows an uninterrupted growth trend over the last ten years.
Beyond the enthusiasm and appreciation generated by the techniques used to involve stakeholders, Design Thinking has had the merit of making companies understand that designing products and services is something different from designing something “nice”: it is a design process based on the understanding of users and their needs (but also of the constraints of the company itself and of the market in which it operates), with a view aimed at problem-solving and the multidisciplinary approach.
What is Design Thinking
The Design thinking is a process of iterative design and it is structured in several phases that lead to understanding the user, questioning the assumptions and redefining the problems with the aim of identifying strategies and alternative solutions. It applies to the design of products and services and makes it possible to evaluate, through the involvement of professionals and different components within the process (or of the company), the constraints existing within the organization or the market itself.
There are different formulations of the phases of Design thinking, but the most widespread is certainly the one proposed by d.school, the design institute of Stanford University.
The founder of the institute, David Kelley, then continued this approach through another creature of him, the IDEO company, which has made a real paradigm of Design Thinking.
The merits of Design Thinking
In recent years, “Design thinking” has become a sort of buzzword that has thrilled many and allowed its supporters to multiply. But if its worst detractors reduce it to “playing with post-it”, this approach has certainly allowed designers to break into many companies that have decided to open up to business innovation.
As Jared Spool points out, the same term “Design thinking” is pleonastic: for those working in the field, the terms “Design” and “Design thinking” are probably superimposable, because the “new” approach is the integration of various techniques, such as Lean UX, customer journey mapping and rapid prototyping.
However, the DT paradigm has been the key to convincing companies that design is not just about the color or graphics. It can be said that this approach has enabled companies to understand that the user experience is a process and not just a product or a service. It has also allowed managers and employees to approach the needs of their clients, to work with a multidisciplinary approach aimed at solving problems, to pursue an innovation-oriented direction.
The risks of “bad” Design Thinking
In the net of the opinions of those who consider it a buzzword or – provocatively – “bullshit“, the practice of Design thinking has shown its limits or some malfunctions. The DT, in the way in which it is seen and practiced in certain situations, is excessively centered on the ideation phase, to the detriment of those understanding the users and defining the problem.
The risk, in this case, is that it turns into a mere creation of a post-it wall. And, on the other side, the production of new ideas often clashes with an underestimation of the market context within which a company or a product moves.
An additional risk to be avoided is constituted by the fact that the stakeholders that are often involved in the design process look for solutions not for the real user but for what they have in mind.
Therefore, Design thinking must be able to put the company in front of the experiences and problems that users actually experience using a service or a product. By comparing different departments in an organization, this risk is certainly mitigated. However, the use of data and analysis on the customer journey can certainly favor the process of empathization and reasoning through the user’s perspective.
Moreover, the importance of the iterative dimension of Design thinking is often underestimated. Despite being marked by well-defined phases, the DT is a method that does not follow a strictly linear model but pushes to reapply what has been learned to redefine problems and perfect ideas and prototypes. If applied to find the best possible solution, at first sight, efforts are almost certainly destined to fail.
A method to simplify the creative process and test ideas and design
Design thinking is a method, not an end. It is a simplification of a creative process that can make those problems and design challenges that often appear opaque understandable. Like all design processes, it is made up of attempts, experiments, and evaluations of each idea produced. The centrality of the tests and the data collected and a critical approach in every phase of the method allow us to transform ideas into effective and winning solutions.
Photo: Teo Yu Siang & Interaction Design Foundation.