The Power of Design Thinking

May 19, 2016

In the past few years, Design Thinking has become an increasingly popular method of software development, creating a solid basis for the delivery of innovative products, business systems and services.

Design thinking

In the past few years, Design Thinking has become an increasingly popular method of software development, creating a solid basis for the delivery of innovative products, business systems and services.

Design Thinking is now a powerful tool and, according to the Interaction Design Foundation, "it has the potential to break down obstructive patterns and allow us to develop new ways of tackling both long-established problems and those that we have never previously encountered." By getting creative, some key development challenges can be tackled thanks to the approach’s fresh perspective.

So what is it? Design Thinking is a human-focused approach to software innovation that designers can use to happily blend what people need with what businesses need, all the while pushing the boundaries of technology.

It's a non-linear method of thinking that is achieved through real contact, observation and empathy with the end–users of software systems in order to design solutions that more accurately fit into their environment and solve real problems.

Design Thinking is also about making ideas come alive via low-fidelity (lo-fi) prototyping, which allows pre-use testing. Trial and error is part of the process and actively encouraged to bring about better solutions in a quicker fashion.

Great for tackling extremely complex and multi-dimensional problems, Design Thinking is especially useful when both the problem and its potential solutions are unknown.

“If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got” - Albert Einstein

Funnily enough, Design Thinking is actually about doing. This process is better thought of as a system of overlapping, flexible stages – inspiration, ideation and implementation – which cover five key phases of development:

Empathise. Firstly, developers have to understand the experience and situation of end-users. This involves observing users perform specific tasks and their behaviour, engaging with them and recognising what they need.

Define. At this point, the needs that are most important to fulfil are selected and expressed so principles can be defined to drive the next stage of the process. A 'point of view' statement is created (user + need+ insight) as a guide.

Ideation. The focus here is on ideas generation. Developers concentrate on translating problems into solutions by exploring a wide variety of ideas. Ideas 'outside the box' are discussed, which means more possibilities are considered, bringing about a better solution.

Prototype. By listening and watching users interact with a prototype product and letting people talk about their experiences, the developer is provided with a brilliant opportunity to discover what changes to make while learning more about the user and their needs.

Test. Having users test an example of the end-product is a highly-effective method for improving the final output before final release. Interestingly, allowing people to test low-fidelity prototypes has proved far more positive in terms of user feedback than post-release testing due to the fact that users tend to see the potential in a preliminary version, rather than seeing flaws in a supposedly completed version. The test phase determines the next stage of development, which could mean taking things back to the drawing board, adjusting the prototype or preparing the product for release.

Design Thinking has been defined as a journey, a road that leads its explorer to a specific destination. As with any journey, knowing where we are, where we might want to be, why we want to get there and with whom we are going are all important considerations. Based on deep empathy with users, multiple perspectives, short and frequent iterations and problem-solving teamwork, Design Thinking is all about collaborative exploration and creation.

It proves that creative techniques are crucial when it comes to software development because they yield better results. Design Thinking allows the unlimited potential of a seemingly humble or wacky idea to grow, by providing a fertile ground for experimentation. It's this fearlessness that gives companies who adopt this method into their practices a significant competitive advantage.