Let me Think!

Design Thinking is so much more than just sticking some written post-it notes onto the wall. Design Thinking aspires to solve real problems in an innovative way. For a good design always has a purpose: Form follows function.

Design Thinking was developed already in the eighties at the Stanford University. It involves a methodical approach with the original focus on product development. Today it is on everybody’s lips, and due to its excessive use at the Managerial level, it has almost degenerated to a non-word. And yet Design Thinking is much more than just an “interdisciplinary”, written post-it note to be put on a wall.

Human Centred Design – form follows function

Design Thinking aspires to solve real problems in an innovative way. Its roots go back to the Bauhaus movement – with the admirable Walter Gropius reshaping anew this way of thinking. Once again architects and designers confronted the man and his problems in a much stronger way. The solutions that were devised at that time, indeed met the challenges of the prevailing needs. The principle “form follows function” was coined at the time by American architect Louis Sullivan, who would, in turn, invoke Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio as well as his concepts of stability, utility, and beauty. With him came the recognition that a good design must always have a purpose. The same idea is being rediscovered also in the Human Centered Design (HCD), which puts the man and his needs in the centre of the creation process.

Get the problem right, and validate the solution regularly

In this spirit, Design Thinking builds predominantly on two principles, which allow the process to breathe: a thorough insight into the problem awaiting the solution and a continuous verification of the solution with the actual customer or user. These two principles are illustrated by two phases, which define the Design Thinking process:

  • the “problem space”, which is all about gaining a thorough insight into the problem in its entirety, and to present it in the most graspable manner, and
  • the “solution space”, in which a concrete solution is worked out and validated out of as many solution ideas to the problem as possible.

These two phases break open the perspective to start with (diverge), and then focus on it gradually more and more at the later stage (converge). This method is often illustrated by the double diamond model.

A clear insight into the problem is crucial for the project success

Moving too soon into the solution-finding area is the biggest temptation in this process – be it due to the time or budget constraints or simply due to the craving to present one’s own design. Our experience shows, however, the dire consequences which follow quickly whenever a design team tries to take a shortcut through the Problem Space before it truly recognises and understands the actual problem in its entirety. A clear insight into the problem is vital in order to be able to work out a solution which would satisfy the actual customer and his user need – instead of relying on assumptions and inside perspective only. And last but not least, a good grasp of the Business is an important factor along with understanding of its requirements as to the Business feasibility and profitability.

Conclusion: look, listen, question

The methods (e.g. interviews, customer journeys, prototyping etc.) of working out the main cornerstones – problem insight, solution finding and validation – play a secondary role for Design Thinking. The Team can select them according to the problem context, the methodical experience and other framework conditions and thus assume ownership of the process. Design Thinking provides the framework only.

We hope that in future Design Thinking will be associated more with thorough looking, listening and questioning, rather than with easily digestible post-it sessions. A variety of ideas can bring the real value only if I am able to take a well-justified decision as to which idea I want to follow as the best possible one. And finally the effort to achieve true insight can only enrich us – beyond the pure product design.