The most natural way to approach the design process is what can be termed ‘reactive.’ That is, to start with a basic idea and use that as a foundation on which to build the solution, making changes and improvements by reacting to feedback received along the way. That approach has been found to be deeply flawed over the years for a number of reasons. Design thinking overcomes these drawbacks with an organized approach to design using data that is gathered at a very early stage in the process. This data could be sourced from analytics, customer feedback, surveys, market research, and much more.
- Keeps human need at the center of the process.
- Aims to make solutions simple and intuitive.
- Requires teamwork and collaboration.
- Brings multiple voices into the problem solving process, rather than the conventional way of brainstorming with a creative core team of designers or marketing experts.
- Challenges ingrained patterns of thinking.
- Encourages the team’s commitment to the solution by making stakeholders a part of the solution.
- Can be used on the complete product or a small part of the product.
- Can be used to improve a process end-to-end or be applied to a subset of the process.
There are 5 stages in the Design Thinking process.
While solving a problem, it is essential to look at the root cause of a problem. Empathy is necessary to ensure that you don’t end up fixing a symptom of the problem rather than the problem itself. More intuitive solutions can be achieved by immersing in the user experience completely.
Empathizing to reduce pesticide residue in produce
A company called Winka Farm in Maharashtra,, Pune supplies agricultural produce to select clientele, among them The Taj Group of Hotels in Mumbai. They had an issue with regards to the produce they were receiving from their farms. It had a high residue of pesticides. The farmers to which these farms were contracted were given all optimum equipment such as saplings, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. as well as access to technology. The simplest solution here was to set a prescribed limit for pesticide levels and penalize the farmers who failed to meet it. However, Winka Farm decided to investigate the matter by talking to the farmers about it. Over several dialogues, the company realized that the farmers, who had had little formal education, were not clear about the most effective ways to use pesticides. They lacked understanding about the lifecycle of the pest larvae and its correlation with the quantity of pesticide required. The company then decided to provide graphic charts explaining the correct use of pesticides. The contract farmers were also educated on agricultural techniques for minimizing the use of pesticides, such as spraying early on during an infestation, use of newer generation insecticides with fume action that sterilize pest eggs, and the use of chemical-free techniques such as moth traps to catch insects before they lay eggs. This empathic approach worked. Winka farm noted that the farmers now found it easy to stay well below the desired level of pesticides in the product. They also established a better rapport with their contractors and strengthened their working relationship by basing it on trust and empathy.
While trying to make sense of the data from discovery, deep rooted beliefs and ideas need to be questioned. It is vital to be able to define the problem correctly, so that you don’t end up solving the wrong problem. After interpreting data and finding patterns, the outcome of this stage should be a human centric problem statement.
Making sense of why kids don’t sleep
A daycare center that found difficulty getting children to nap was considering re-designing the sleeping area. However, on inspection of data and through conversation with the staff, they hit upon something surprising. The children were not getting enough physical activity during the day. As a result of this, they would not be tired enough when it was time to nap. Instead of redesigning the sleeping area, they decided to implement a more active curriculum. They also added more toys and equipment to the play area that encouraged movement and physical activity, such as skipping ropes and swings. Interpreting the data correctly helped them resolve their problem more effectively and at a much lower cost.
Once the problem is defined, it is time to determine the stakeholders and to decide who will participate in the ideation process. This discussion should be inclusive and representative of all the expertise required to bring the solution into being. For instance, ideation for an app development project would include teams members from the creative team, finance, marketing, as well as, development. The job of each stakeholder, besides contributing ideas, is to stop the solution from deviating too far from reality. There are hundreds of ideation techniques out there. The important part is to encourage the team to think out of the box and to make sure that the discussion is focused on inclusivity and questioning assumptions. Ideas thus generated are evaluated based on the different criteria promoted by the diverse viewpoints across the table. The ideas that stabilize in the end are articulated clearly and are ready for the next phase.
Based on the ideas that come out of the previous phase, a number of prototypes may be created. Their aim is to investigate the effectiveness of each solution at minimal cost. The prototype has to be very basic, even simpler than a Minimum Viable Product. At the same time, it has to be able to create a very vivid experience of the solution for the end user. These prototypes can be tested upon the stakeholders, within the organization, and even on real users. The outcome of this testing decides the future of each prototype. Each of the prototypes could end up being accepted, rejected, or improved individually based on the feedback received from testing.
How McDonald’s revolutionized food industry with prototyping
As shown in the movie, “The Founder,” Richard and Maurice McDonald, the original founders of McDonald’s, were trying to come up with a speedy delivery system for fast food. In order to make sure that their kitchen was designed to allow for maximum efficiency, they took their team to a tennis court where they drew the outline of the whole kitchen in chalk. While the workers mimicked the actions of preparing the food, the whole process was timed with a stopwatch. In the movie, they draw and redraw the arrangements till they hit upon the one that is the most efficient.
Viable solutions from the testing phase are implemented and tested in the real world. Data thus acquired is used to improve the solution. The results of this phase can also be used to empathize better with the end user. In some instances, they even help redefine the problem.
Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process. It enables solutions to be tested rapidly, with minimal waste, and minimum chance of error. This is made possible through the focus on human need and putting it at the center of a process that designs solutions for humans.
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