Design Thinking - Why Is It Important?

Sarah Saleh, Contributor , Dec 08 2016

Although Design is most often used to describe an object or end result, it is however a process which can become, if used efficiently, the most powerful tool and foundation for driving a brand or business forward. In the words of Nigel Cross, a key individual in the Design Research Society, “Everything we have around us has been designed. Design ability is, in fact, one of the three fundamental dimensions of human intelligence. Design, science, and art, form an ‘AND’ not an ‘OR’ relationship to create the incredible human cognitive ability.”

Design Thinking – a Short History

The notion of design as a "way of thinking" in the sciences can be traced to Herbert A. Simon (1969) and in design engineering to Robert McKim (1973). In the 1980s and 1990s, Rolf Faste expanded on McKim’s work and taught "design thinking as a method of creative action." Design thinking was then adapted for business purposes by David M. Kelley, who founded IDEO in 1991.

What is Design Thinking?

It is a methodology that employs unique and creative techniques to solve complex problems and find desirable solutions. Traditionally, design thinking was considered as a method used only by designers; it is however applicable to anything that entails creating innovative ideas and solving problems.

You do not have to be a designer to think like one. While it may take years to become a good designer, you can still design the way you lead, manage, create and innovate. If you are mapping out a strategy, you are designing. Design thinking is not limited to any specific industry or expertise area. Numerous businesses and organizations use it to solve existing problems and discover new opportunities, such as GE, Apple and Citrix, as well as RTA in Dubai, which has also welcomed the process into their corporate culture.

Design Thinking generally consists of five steps:

  1. Empathize
    Understand the problem from the perspective of the end user, which means to understand the market you are designing for and what they want. This is done via observation, interaction, as well as immersion into their experiences. This knowledge becomes your foundation from where to begin addressing the challenge.

  2. Define
    In this phase, you analyze and interpret the findings from the first phase to form the blueprint which will be translated into a defined plan addressing the design which can impact user experience.

  3. Ideate
    Once you have understood your target, a critical component of design thinking is to brainstorm and explore several possibilities. This phase is all about creativity; ideas are encouraged, whether savvy, risky or wishful. The solution is imagined and research is conducted in order to visualize a reality out of a mere image.

  4. Prototype
    During this phase, ideas are transformed into a physical or tangible solution, which is brought to life keeping the end user in mind.  Ideas may fail at this stage, but it is better that you fail early and often in order to later succeed. This process emphasizes frequent customer feedback.

  5. Test
    Testing is an essential part of the process as it provides feedback to refine the prototype. This is where knowledge about the user is accentuated, and where you start figuring out what works and what does not. It is of paramount importance that the prototype meets the needs of the user.

This process is then repeated countless times until the solution is exact and all client needs are met, making the process cyclical in nature. It is also highly collaborative and human-centered, relying heavily on inclusivity, ideation and experimentation to drive innovative solutions that people love. It is about meeting other people’s needs and desires, while ensuring a feasible and viable solution.

Why is Design Thinking so important?

First of all, it brings people together from various disciplines and departments, leading to better mindsets within an organization; every team member is encouraged to bring along their understanding of things. This meeting in one place, of diverse experiences and opinions leads to the development of innovative products and services which are aligned with the needs of people, and helps connect to customers on a deeper level. It also allows to experiment with idea generation and critical thinking, which make for better problem-solving skills and an ecosystem of creativity and innovation.

Another point worth mentioning is that it takes place at the intersection of human, technological and economic aspects – making it a holistic approach to innovation. It looks into human needs while studying feasibility and economics. Design Thinking states that all three factors must be considered, in order to move into innovation.

In conclusion, Design thinking is at the core of effective strategy development and organizational change. It defines how organizations learn from one another, and pushes teams to explore new horizons. The design way of thinking can be applied to anything from systems, to procedures and user experiences. Ultimately, it is there to improve quality of life and create a better world for all.

 “Design is the ability to move from the existing to the preferred. The future is a design problem.” - John Kao


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