Design thinking isn’t exactly a new concept. Design as a way of thinking was first proposed by Nobel Prize laureate Herbert A. Simon in his 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial, while attempts to link design to scientific methods began well before that. (Think: architecture and engineering.)
And yet, to those of us unfamiliar with the concept and unused to using design thinking methods, the term ‘design thinking’ can just seem like a fancy buzzword. Trust us –– it’s much more than a buzzword. It’s an innovative (dare we say game-changing?) way of approaching work and life.
In this article we want to unpack for once and for all what design thinking is, why it’s a critical tool for tech workers, and how it can be applied strategically in both personal and professional life. Let’s dive in.
Firstly, why is design thinking so valuable?
And if it IS so valuable, why don’t we teach it in schools?
There are certainly calls to do so. Dell released a report in 2017 estimating that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 hadn’t been invented yet, highlighting how today’s future workforce needs to be equipped to solve problems, adapt fast, and pivot in a rapidly changing world.
The same goes in the tech industry, which is evolving at breakneck speed. As tech workers, we need to be adaptable and willing to change courses quickly as our roles shift and technologies advance.
Design thinking is a key skill to have in any industry, but in technology especially so. And to be clear, it’s not simply the process of ‘thinking creatively’ – as nice as that sounds.
Design thinking is the ability to design processes that can systematically extract, teach, learn and apply human-centered techniques to solve problems in a creative and innovative way. It’s an interactive process in which you seek to understand your users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions.
So is design thinking the same as innovation?
The two are closely aligned, but they’re not the same thing. Innovation may be the outcome of design thinking, but design thinking is the process used to get to innovation. (A Medium article by Mark Dyson PhD explains the differences and similarities in more detail.)
Some of the leading global tech companies that we associate with innovation –– Apple, Google and Samsung –– have adopted the design thinking approach and apply it in all areas of their work.
So what is design thinking?
It can be broken down into these core principles.
Empathy is a vital attribute for leaders, and anyone working in the tech industry. The ability to understand the needs of others and be aware of their feelings and thoughts leads to better teamwork, as well as the development of better products and systems.
Empathizing is the first part of the design thinking process because it requires surrendering personal opinions and looking at problems from an objective perspective. Working in a diverse team on technical problems often leads to better empathizing, as different values and ideas are brought to the table.
So the process will often start with research and an attempt to understand the needs of end-users.
Defining measurable and attainable goals is the next step in design thinking. Based on empathy practices, research and testing, this will involve finding ‘golden goals’ – the things to focus on that will achieve results and determine the course of a project. Goals can be continually redefined as more information comes to light about user needs.
This process ensures that the problem to be solved isn’t assumed, but that the very issue itself has been looked at from multiple angles before goals have been set.
You can also use the ‘define’ stage of design thinking in your personal life, working to find ‘golden goals’ that will bring most value and meaning to your life. This can be done, for example, when setting New Year’s Resolutions.
This part of the process begins to look at potential methods for solving a problem. There are plenty of ways to ideate solutions, with one of the more basic methods being a simple brainstorm.
Design thinkers often use multiple ideation techniques to create a list of as many solutions as possible which they can then use to narrow to the most viable options.
Once design ideas have been ideated, a design thinker will move onto creating a prototype.
Interaction Design Foundation defines a prototype as:
“A simple experimental model of a proposed solution used to test or validate ideas, design assumptions and other aspects of its conceptualization quickly and cheaply, so that the designer/s involved can make appropriate refinements or possible changes in direction.”
It can be as simple as an app interface drawn on a piece of paper, or role playing a service offering idea. The idea is that wireframes, mockups and simple, tangible product examples can be tested in the real world so design assumptions can be trialed and new ideas can be sparked.
There will generally be several rounds of prototyping, with each iteration getting more detailed and closer to the final product.
Concept testing is a research method that involves asking customers questions about your concept or ideas before actually launching it. It’s an opportunity to get real feedback from real users, so that necessary tweaks and changes can be made to the product.
Testing can be done throughout the design thinking process, and may lead to insights that land you back at the ‘empathize’ stage, only to prompt research and goal-setting again. Each iteration will get you closer to designing a final, effective solution.
How do you learn design thinking?
There are many self-taught design thinking practitioners out there who’ve learned the basics through independent research and study. You might even practice some elements of design thinking already without being aware of it!
But to fully embrace the design thinking methodology, it’s most effective to learn strategies and techniques from an expert in the field. Looking to real-life case studies and examples will help you grasp the process better, so you can begin applying it to your own work and life.
Enter: The Girls in Tech Design Thinking Bootcamp
In this interactive, 2-day workshop, you get access to the wisdom and teachings of experienced design thinking practitioner Drew Tucker, Director of Strategy at Kertis a Louisville-based creative agency.
This is one of the fastest, most affordable tools you can use to learn the basics and start applying design thinking practices to your work. You benefit from:
- Design Research
- Ideation tools and tactics
- Insight evaluation and activation
Find a bootcamp running in your area over on our Events page, and sign up today!
And if you’re a company looking to dive further into diversity, equality and inclusion commitments while supporting women in the technology industry, we’d love to chat about partnership opportunities with you. Reach out to discuss Girls in Tech sponsorship packages.