Design thinking can mean different things to different people but according to the definition given by Tim Brown, Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success. In simple terms it usually describes the processes, methods, tools for creating human centered products, services, solutions and experiences. The famous Double Diamond model which is a widely used for design thinking came from the British Design Council, but the inspiration for this process came from Hungarian-American linguist Béla H. Bánáthy’s divergence-convergence model.
Contrary to what the “Double Diamond” says, Design Thinking in its true sense does not emphasize on converging on an answer as quickly as possible but to expand the number of options to go sideways for a while then move ahead in the Design process. This Design Process is an iterative process where going back and forth with the user and the stakeholders actually means rethinking and reimagining the whole process multiple times and accepting failure which most organizations and designers involved in the project can be very uncomfortable with.
The “Double Diamond” model is straightforward, but this also implies that you can create and come up with answers very quickly, which is problematic given the vast complexity of design. The “Double Diamond” has frequently been utilised and abused as a tool for week long or day long bootcamps integrating design thinking throughout an organisation. Parts of the model’s guiding concepts can be picked up quickly, but in general, ideas that lead to solutions created “in a day” tend to be quite flimsy.
Also before we actually consider deploying the “Double Diamond” to initiate the design thinking process, there are some key mindsets that are required for designers to use Design Thinking to its fullest potential.
Human Centered: The designers should be able to understand and respond to human needs by not only placing the user but also the core human values associated with complex systems at the center before they start empathising with the stakeholders.
Aware and Open minded: Each phase of design thinking has its own unique purpose. Being attentive to behaviours, understanding of associated psychological paradigms and goals would allow designers to get the most out of each phase of the Design Process. As Design thinking is iterative it is also very important to reflect upon each phase and go back and forth using feedbacks to improve the outcome. This also means to let go of the rigid mindset and any judgement bias before, during and after the time we initiate the design thinking process.
Interdisciplinary Collaborators: Designers should be able to create working partnerships with experts from different disciplines as well as demonstrate an understanding of the outliers or users who may not completely be the right fit for their product or service but may want to use it anyway. These valuable insights may help develop innovative ideas that can finally lead to pathbreaking solutions.
Fast learners and early adapters: Designers should be able to explore, experiment and build and not be scared to try out new ways to do things. This also means they should be willing to prototype quickly and engage with as many users as possible to get clearer insights, critique and feedback. Designers should not just be involved in creating something aesthetically appealing but also be action oriented to quickly think, learn, process and make decisions, take on challenges and have no fear of thinking out of the box. It is also true that the development of high quality innovation will always take time and sometimes there is no quick route to understanding complex systems and this is where the ‘Double Diamond’ can fail. The divergent-convergent aspect of design is emphasised in “The Double Diamond,” but there is no predetermined set formula to determine which practical solutions have the greatest potential for innovation or the ability to lead to and develop into realistic solutions.
The author of Design Thinking – Transforming Teams, Bill Burnett, describes how a team would vote in secret for four ideas, selecting two that are most likely to succeed, two that would most likely delight end users, and two that are the most innovative. The team would not have to take into account any constraints. Once designers have successfully bucketed their ideas they may now work on their design blueprint which should typically also have enough information on how the prototype will be tested to see if it really can meet the success criteria. Blueprints may or may not be tangible objects and solutions can be in various forms which may be in a complete intangible state and this too should be encouraged. Although it is said that Prototyping may bring more clarity to the project but the emphasis should be more on testing, receiving honest, unbiased feedback, identifying new insights, recognising and appreciating unexpected failure points that can lead to improvements or refinements which will go a long way. The “double diamond” therefore should ideally provide designers the opportunity to problem solve and think through ideas that may arise in the course of building a prototype which rarely ever happens in the real world where organisations push to finish the design process way earlier than expected.
Prototyping too is not the final step in the design process but sadly, designers are frequently removed from projects once the prototype is complete and the initial testing is successful and in a fast paced world one rarely reflects back upon the hidden failures. Post the prototyping phase, any further design work is crammed in where it can be. Once the unavoidable cases with problems are identified the red flags and faults are remembered and on-the-spot iterations take place. The task is completed quickly since realistically, the designer must now focus on other projects. However, if we want to effectively understand design thinking, organisations must first recognise the problem with existing systems and move to an effective system that expects design work to continue after prototyping phase and the process should actually be iterative in its real sense. Design Thinking should not become a cheap arrangement to fixing complex problems that will only attack the problem at a very superficial level.
- Bill Burnett: Design Thinking – Transforming Teams
- Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation- Tim Brown
- Image courtesy – https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-work/skills-learning/tools-frameworks/framework-for-innovation-design-councils-evolved-double-diamond/