Is Design Thinking just new jargon doing the hype cycle? The 'old wine in a new bottle' sell out? It would seem not, since on close inspection there are many features within the process that make it distinctly unique from your traditional product innovation brainstorming. The first is that in Design Thinking, you may not even begin the process with a clearly defined problem. Rather, it is a solution-focused thinking that starts with what is meant to be achieved and works backwards to explore the parameters of the problem.
Here are some other elements of a Design Thinking approach:
One for All...All for One
The stalemates that are often reached between different departments in a conventional brainstorming session just don't arise in Design Thinking. And that's simply because every idea gets its due credit and goes through all the phases of scoping, research, synthesis, ideation, prototyping and validation. Each party gets a good insight into the other's area and even begins to accept/understand the different points of view. By the end of the session, it's not uncommon for the team to agree with each other on the challenge and also on the best solution to tackle it.
A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words
Another plus point of the Design Thinking approach is it encourages participants to think visually. Participants are told to break free from the 'I can't draw' fear to express themselves beyond plain words. This goes a really long way in fostering a more open and creative environment.
Take the example of a Design Thinking workshop that SAP helped organise for a global healthcare company - having homed in on the idea of developing a mobile platform to manage a growing number of applications for the customer; SAP got the workshop participants to use cereal boxes as low fidelity mobile prototypes. These boxes were then covered with post-it notes that were filled out with the different kinds of things the team expected from the mobile solution. Such an exercise helped actually visualise the possibilities that mobile solutions could bring and reinforce the need for a single cohesive mobility platform.
Look, Think, Do
More than just coming up with an idea Design Thinking stresses on the importance of testing whether the idea really works. Referred to as the stage of prototyping, this allows participants to see the tangible creation of their ideation quickly, solicit feedback and iterate the solution further if need be.
A Continual Journey of Exploration
Design Thinking is more than just a single cycle of Look, Think, Do; rather it is a continual, iterative process of observing and exploring till a solution is reached. The idea behind this is simple - just as when you're ready to buy a house, you make multiple site visits, sometimes with different family members to get their points of view; similarly, Design Thinking benefits from observation results that come when multiple people and therefore multiple perspectives are engaged. What's more, when we refer to the Look phase, Design Thinking engages all five human senses. It is through this intensive exploration that Design Thinking practitioners are able to truly connect with the needs of people and create genuine empathy for customers.
Summing it up, Design Thinking is a mindset - one that encourages debate and questioning, accelerates development of tangible products, and holds out the possibility of discovering something out of the box every time!
(The author is head, marketing, Indian subcontinent, SAP)