How design thinking can help you arrive at innovative solutions

By Amruth Chinnappa

Eight out of every ten businesses fail. It could either be due to inefficient planning or a low capacity for innovation in a dynamic market. It then seems reasonable that business owners look at different methods in order to arrive at innovative solutions. Design thinking is a widely used thought process which draws from human emotion to develop a solutions-based model. Many of the start-ups are convinced of the merit of this process and hence, this technique is used even outside the professional context, for example, in the education sector.

About design thinking

Design thinking started marking its existence since around the 1980s. It is different from other research-based methodologies, where a scientific approach of iteration with regular feedback is followed. The design thinker concentrates on the end product and takes into account human emotion, with its expectation of the result. With a focus on empathy being the driving force to understand the problem from multiple directions, the train of thought involved lies in the future. Creativity without apprehensions is allowed to flow freely, with a stress on divergent thinking. Divergence is celebrated in the form of unique and creative ideas. This stage is followed by convergent thinking where a particular idea is narrowed upon.

The five different stages

Design thinking, in its various forms, is a strictly non-linear approach where the steps involved share common attributes. The first stage involves inspiration, ideation and implementation. The process begins with a question. It involves identifying the problem to be handled and a possible direction to the solution. The core aspects of the idea are then identified and refined. Subsequently, it is modified to accommodate the conditions of the real world. The end result might have to go through several iterations in order to finally become polished.

Empathy is the next important thing. The designer approaches the product under the guise of the consumer. The comfort, necessity and simplicity required by a user are carefully gauged, along with the emotional mindset. Market surveys don’t really help in the ideation of new products. The feverish customer could ask for a better-designed fan for ventilation but wouldn’t have thought of an air conditioner. The designer plays his role here by understanding the requirements at an underlying level and doing his best to resolve them.

Now that the designer knows the emotional state of the consumer, the idea is reframed to accommodate the insights gained in the second step. The third step involves a combination of convergent and divergent thinking. Divergent thinking requires skilled multi-disciplinary individuals, who can collaborate easily. New alternatives are explored and the participants are instructed to come up with a number of ideas. The result needs to be a diverse set of ideas which have high potential. Later on, a level of synthesis needs to be carried out to ensure its optimal nature.

After this, a prototype is created. That is, an inexpensive and scaled-down version of the product or service is designed and is then tested among the members of the same team or a control group. Depending on the users’ experience, the solutions are either improved upon or discarded. At the end of this stage, the team will have an understanding of the constraints of the product.

Finally, the product is modelled as a commercial venture. Its testing would reveal the kinks in the previous four steps and is crucial for delivering a finished product.

Contribution to education

Design thinking has a wide range of users in the field of education as well. Stanford’s ‘Taking Design Thinking to School‘ initiative comprises techniques being taught to children. The students are expected to follow the same in their activities. The process is aimed to make school work engrossing. The next generation may have the course taught as a compulsory part of its education and thus, should be critical for development.

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