Why design thinking is not only for experts

Maybe you have heard people talking about ‘design thinking’ and assumed you needed to be an expert – either in design or an abstract methodology you would need to learn – to be able to use it. If this is the case, you will be pleased to know that one of the reasons design thinking is widely embraced is that it is a simple and intuitive process. It can be learned and applied by anyone, regardless of their level of experience or expertise. Don’t be put off by the name!

Design thinking is a problem-solving methodology based on the principles of human-centered design. It works best as a team process and encourages people to focus on the needs of the users of the end solution. This means that the products and services created should be more appropriate responses to a challenge.

While design thinking sounds like quite an abstract idea, it is in fact a relatively simple collaborative process that encourages teams to work together to identify problems and to create solutions.

Where did design thinking come from?

Design thinking as a process has evolved over the years, since the mid 1950s. It does not involve design per se. The name refers to the way in which designers tend to approach problems and challenges as opposed to how a scientist might. Scientists tend to approach problems from the perspective of the problem itself, whereas designers will tend to apply a solution-based response.

These days you will find many coaches, experts, and trainers who are dedicated to helping teams transform their working practices with design thinking. However, design thinking is easily accessible to any team who wishes to improve its efficiency and performance. It’s just about knowing the processes and having the right tools at your disposal.

How does the design thinking process work?

Design thinking is an iterative process that encourages teams to test their solutions and to gather feedback from users. This helps teams to quickly identify any issues or problems with their solutions and make changes to improve them. The process has 5 main steps, and each phase can be repeated at any stage. It is a non-linear way of working towards a solution.

The 5 steps of design thinking help teams create solutions that are truly effective and meet the needs of their users. They are not complicated, and all the stages can be used by teams in meetings or workshops regardless of their experience or business focus.

  1. Empathize – put yourself into the shoes of the end user and work out what the needs of the business or the consumer are, rather than assuming.
  2. Define – use all the information and data your team has gathered in the first phase to help work out what the problem is that you are trying to solve.
  3. Ideate – use techniques like brainstorming with your team members to come up with original, innovative ideas. Encourage ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.
  4. Prototype develop basic, low-cost prototypes which can then be revised and reworked by teams depending on the feedback received when you test them in the next phase.
  5. Test – the final phase of design thinking is when solutions are tried and tested among the target market. Teams will need to solicit feedback and then implement any necessary changes at this stage also.

How can the design thinking process be applied by teams?

Design thinking is a flexible process that can be adapted to different types of problems and used within different contexts. It doesn’t matter whether you are working on internal procedures, a marketing campaign, or a new product: design thinking methodology can be applied in your meetings and workshops to help you identify exactly what the needs of your users are. It can then help you create feasible solutions that are tailored to those needs.

Everyone on your team has the opportunity to contribute their own ideas and perspectives, and you can all work together to come up with the best possible solution. Experience is not a pre-requisite. It works across business divisions and it’s definitely not just for the designers!

Teamwork and design thinking

Teamwork and diverse input are at the heart of the design thinking process. Rather than expecting one or two people to come up with and implement new products or services, design thinking uses collective intelligence and the benefits of diversity.

A study by Carnegie Mellon in 2010 found that the collective intelligence of groups exceeded the cognitive abilities of individual group members. And groups where empathy, diversity, and equal say flourished were the ones that performed best.

The more different types of input you have, the better the results are likely to be: diversity is important for design thinking. A Forbes article, Diversity Confirmed To Boost Innovation And Financial Results makes the point that “members of diverse teams see things in a variety of ways, are poised to recognize new and different market opportunities, and they can better appreciate unmet market needs. Expanded market awareness produces results”. And these results make a difference to the bottom line.

Assimilating design thinking into teamwork processes

Design thinking uses methods that can make for better teamwork - and better teamwork makes for better solutions. It is easy to use design thinking processes in workshops and meetings for training and development as well as to come up with new products and services.

There are many collaborative tools that are particularly useful for both teamwork and design thinking.

Collaborative tools to make teamwork and the design thinking process more productive

In the first phase of the design thinking process, you need to empathize with the end user. This can be your customers or employees, for example. Using customer or employee personas can help you understand them better and thereby get a deeper understanding of how they will be using your product and service. 

This makes it easier to come up with relevant, feasible ideas for the direction in which the finished product will need to go. Customer persona templates can help teams drill down into the detail and work out exactly who they are selling to.

Brainstorming and teamwork

Brainstorming is a technique that has become popular due to its usefulness. To make it work well the question or challenge needs to be defined sufficiently enough to provoke creativity but not be so broad that any responses have little relevance. If team members are not aware of the challenge until the session gets underway, they are more likely to be more spontaneous with their responses. Again, a more diverse team is likely to come up with a wider variety of ideas.

Design thinking builds a sense of inclusion and identity and leads to innovation. As Forbes also notes, “when all voices are given airtime and everyone’s ideas are considered, it drives both the insights needed for innovation and the creativity to assess new markets and examine existing markets in new ways”.

Brainstorming gives a voice to all members of a team, regardless of experience or seniority. Gone are the days of only the top managers being heard – or taking all the credit for the rest of the team. There are many approaches you can take to brainstorming with your team and there are various templates and ideas to be found easily online.

Tools that are easily assimilated by team members

These types of collaborative tools and their efficacy are better learnt by doing rather than by explaining. Adding them into your workshops and meetings will pay dividends with innovative ideas and a better sense of team. They are strategies that are easily implemented, and team members can quickly see the benefits. They can swiftly become part of your arsenal, without any lengthy explanations or training necessary.

Design thinking is an intuitive way of working

Design thinking is intuitive because it taps into our tendencies to empathize, explore, and experiment in the ways that a natural ‘designer’ would. While soft skills may be a bit of a struggle for some people, who might find it harder than others to empathize with the end user, the value lies in the team. And soft skills can be learnt and developed. We use empathy all the time to connect with others.

The brainstorming element of design thinking encourages individuals to think laterally. The idea is to generate as many ideas as possible, as quickly as possible, without pausing to think about how realistic or feasible they might be. They might seem ridiculous on reflection but there may be something somewhere in an idea that could be part of the answer. If we take too long to think about things, we can discount them as too far-fetched. Brainstorming helps people to think outside the box and to not be constrained too much by traditional or linear thinking: it doesn’t need new training or knowledge.

The rapid prototyping and iteration phase of design thinking means that people need to learn to trust their instincts to make quick decisions about which ideas they should pursue and how to refine them, and which should be discarded as unlikely to work.

Once you know the basics of design thinking and how to apply them, it is easy to use them with your teams.

Training others in and with design thinking methodologies

As a training facilitator, or even team leader, it would be easy to assume that all design thinking trainers are heavily schooled in the subject. This is natural, as many types of training do involve years of learning and experience. However, the intuitive nature of design thinking and the readily-available tools it uses means that it is accessible to both teams and trainers who wish to improve efficiency and performance.

Introducing the design thinking process

As you will have seen, design thinking is useful in so many areas, and not just for creating products and services for end users. Using the collaborative tools within teams can both produce better results and improve teamwork and the sense of team

This is especially important in these post-Covid days, where many teams are finding it hard to regain that bond and sense of trust. As it does not require large amounts of training or investment, the design thinking methodology is one that many people will embrace once they understand its benefits.

Using the right tools

With engaging teaching methods and by using tools that are part of the design thinking toolkit, you can use them to effectively sell the process and vice versa. Making sure that you are teaching a mindset rather than a method will lead to better outcomes. It should help people to understand that they can apply the design thinking process to various aspects of their business and personal lives.

And, as with any meeting, workshop, or training and development experience, it is key to maintain engagement by providing interesting and varied content that resonates with the target audience. Online tools allow you to do this more easily. They can be tied together with the use of a digital whiteboard, allowing the same user experience across different types of participation (in person, remote, or hybrid) and also enable all participants to have an equal degree of participation. For example, in brainstorming sessions, using a digital whiteboard that everyone can access at the same time means than everyone has a voice. And ideas can be more easily saved, sorted, and assessed.

Using the design thinking process to create engaging training and development

Here at Klaxoon we have designed tools and resources to help you find the solutions that are unique to your business and its customers. Our collaborative tools are used within the design thinking process as well as in training and workshop environments, to increase engagement and create better solutions and outcomes.

Whether you are interested in design thinking templates, ideation boards, digital whiteboards, brainstorming techniques or other helpful online tools for your design thinking journey, why not check out our resources page? We can help you and your teams work better together and improve your efficiency and performance.

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