Our Thoughts

5 Myths about Design Thinking

Nov. 23, 2017 Roli Agrawal


1. Design Thinking is a 5 step linear process

Design thinking is a creative problem solving method based on three key principles

  • Human Centeredness

  • Abductive thinking

  • Iterative solutioning

The process itself is very flexible and often cyclic in nature and can be customized into steps based on the context of the problem, using the above three principles. There are no specific right or wrong models as long as the three principles are used in proper context. It may happen that during prototyping of your solution you discover some roadblocks and decide to hit the boardroom for a brainstorming session for a new idea, or the user testing reveals some insights which requires a redefinition of the problem. Problem solving through design thinking often requires the need for restarting by moving to an upstream process based on feedback loops such as user testing. The starting points of the DT process can vary depending on the requirement of the project.

There are various versions of the Design Thinking framework created and modified by the different organization based on the requirements of their specific industry and nature of work. The 5 five step process developed by IDEO, Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test is the most commonly known and widely used but here are some other known models of Design Thinking.

2. Design Thinking is mutually exclusive to other methodologies like Agile, Lean Startup, Six Sigma etc.

Before we jump into the different processes and how they connect with Design Thinking, we have to first understand why do we need Design Thinking, what does it mean for the innovation strategy of an organization. Technology is driving change at a speed we have never seen before, it’s impacting economics, politics, society and the environment. We live in what is popularly called the VUCA world - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world. To sustain this adverse and abnormal VUCA reality organization need to innovate for both - quantum changes and incremental changes.

Design Thinking as a methodology is suited for looking at innovation for quantum level changes.

Example: With alarming levels of global warming steps are required to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Incremental changes alone, such as car-pooling, reducing industrial emissions and burning fossil fuels for electricity are insufficient to solve the problem without quantum changes brought about by design thinking e.g. the invention of cars run on water/fuel cells (a completely new energy source - a paradigm shift).

Incremental changes are phases between two innovative designs, quantum and incremental changes run in cycles. A change in design is followed and should be followed by a phase of consolidation/optimisation brought about by incremental changes till the arrival of a better design. It is during this phase of consolidation/ and optimisation is where methods like Agile like Six Sigma come into play and, hence need to be used in cohesion with Design Thinking and not mutually exclusive, or a substitute for one over the other.

The “better together framework created by Dave Landis is an excellent example of how Design Thinking can be combined with Agile and Lean UX.



3. Design Thinking = Brainstorming for creative Ideas

Often people have a notion that to solve a problem you need one big great idea, so just put together a bunch of creative people from your organization in a room and you will have the most innovative idea. Design Thinking is as much about making informed decisions as it is about creative ideas. The beauty of DT framework is that helps you to trigger your creative instincts by first framing the right questions. Problem finding and problem definition are the steps where a good design thinker spends maximum time. In our practice at Tinkerlabs we have seen during our training session that groups which do not spend enough time in gaining insight and framing their problem statements are the ones who have low success in the testing phase of their solutions, so we can safely say that key to a good idea is to have the accurate problem statement, to begin with.

4. It is applicable only to New Product Innovation

New Product Innovation is the most widely known application of Design Thinking but it is equally applicable to improvising processes, services and systemic level innovations. This misconception is popular mainly due to the fact that the Design thinking originated from product/industrial design practices and product innovation companies like IDEO and Frog design who were the pioneers and popularized the methodology. Over a period of time as the business landscape changed from manufacturing to services and subsequently to experiences, these design firms started playing a more strategic role in the innovation journey of their clients and found a wider application of their processes, moving beyond the traditional design space. In 2004 d.school at Stanford University was founded who played a pivotal role in creating tools for spreading Design Thinking to non-designers. Today Design Thinking is being applied for various objectives like process optimization, behaviour change, sales etc. across sectors like healthcare, law firms, schools, prisons, to government bodies as a creative problem solving tool. The vast variety of organizations that are adapting Design Thinking is a clear testimony to the fact. Here are the links to some of the successful case studies

5. Design Thinking is a very time taking and costly methodology

The empathetic research and iterative prototyping method often create the impression that it is a time taking process but in fact it this very nature of the process that can help organizations pace up the innovation process. The Design Thinking framework helps you incorporate the end user’s perspective very early on and make the solution more contextually relevant. The user testing helps you eliminate unnecessary features from the solutions and focus on the ones that really matter to the user, making the entire process as a whole very fast. “ Fail fast. Fail forward”.

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