In today’s blog article, I will focus on the theme of Design Thinking (DT). Everyone knows what “design” and “thinking” mean individually, but only few will have come across the concept of the Design Thinking process. So, why is it worth talking about?

I first used the DT method when, in a previous role, my team and I were tasked with designing a development strategy for the Polish-Slovak borderland that would respond to the needs of people living there. I had seen the advantages and versatility of DT when used in other teams, especially in analysing the needs and expectations of stakeholders, and so I decided to learn more about it. Eventually, I ended up completing a Design Thinking moderator course and have been a propagator of the method ever since.

To create something new or to improve an existing thing, we need freedom and space, physically, mentally and socially. This limitlessness can easily lead to chaos. Without parameters, it can be difficult to determine progress and analyse when something is done and when it needs more work. Moreover, without structure, when we do decide the creative process is complete, how will we know that it has fulfilled all the needs, criteria, and objectives we had in the beginning?

Design Thinking is a process that leads you through chaos and helps you to organise it. It consists of five stages: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test (according to Stanford d.school). Thanks to this structure, we can move from complexity to solutions. We can keep sight of the goal, while providing the opportunity to immerse ourselves in limitless possibilities.

How and where to start the creative process

Where should one start? Isn’t this question one of the biggest blockades to creativity? When preoccupied with this idea, it can be difficult to move in any one direction. Should you focus exclusively on designing your own project, or should you start by researching and analysing existing work in the area? Should you rely on your own imagination or seek inspiration from others?

Design Thinking is a human centred method. It proposes that each process start with empathy, that is, a deep understanding of our users’ and clients’ needs. Before we start inventing something, we need to understand how they live, what their desires and needs are, how they make decisions, where they look for solutions, what they enjoy, what hurts them, what they are angry with, and what fills them with joy. We put ourselves into their shoes and look for moments in which emotions arise. In emotions, we find the insights that support and develop the whole creative process.

Undetermined purpose of creation

Where are we heading to? Specific goals are often a very good motivating factor for people and entire teams. They lead us, we know what to do, we know what we want to achieve. But when working on a completely new product or service, we often lack such direction. By innovating, we are by definition exploring ideas that have not yet been explored. We are in the dark unknown, without a guiding light, attempting to spark our own flame. However, without that guiding light, we can find ourselves lacking an important motivational element, making it easy to fall into discouragement and resignation.

This is why the Define phase is a part of the Design Thinking process. Through defining our objective, we get out of chaos and start the journey towards our goal. It encourages us to formulate a question that the project will answer. This question will arise from examining the needs of our end users, who were defined in the Empathise step, and is that for which the project ultimately hopes to provide a solution. It must be inspirational, catchy, engaging, and realistic. The better formulated the question, the greater the motivation there will be to work in the next stages.

When is the work finished?

Just as we often do not know how to start a creative project, it can also be difficult to know when such a project is finished. How can we be confident that the solution we developed for the question identified is good enough to be released into the world?

The fact is that there will never be 100% certainty in response to this question. However, DT can greatly reduce the uncertainty through its Prototype step. This step gives us the opportunity to prepare low budget prototypes of several ideas. The prototypes can then be presented to potential end users, who provide feedback. Through this approach, we can find out the strengths and weaknesses of our proposed solutions, or even if they make sense at all. Once we have had the chance to implement feedback and improve our product, we can ask for feedback again…and again. Until finally, we can confidently say that the end result is ready for investment.

How to get out of the box?

Do you often find yourself stuck in a loop, devoid of any new thoughts, ideas, or solutions? This is one of the biggest challenges of creative work. How do we promote thinking outside the box?

When working with the DT method, you benefit from an almost unlimited resource of tools supporting creative work. There are a lot of tools that involve visualisation, metaphors, or reframing of ideas. But, in my opinion, the biggest advantage of DT is its emphasis on the diversity of teams involved in the process. Good DT processes are those through which we include people from a variety of backgrounds. The communication between different areas is beneficial in the promotion of out-of-the-box thinking. Even if, initially, the ideas of others seem strange or unrealistic to us, maybe even crazy, this is where we can gain greater perspective, new insights, and a new dimension of quality, through the process of synergy.

Imagine what can come out of a discussion between an experienced maths teacher and a young painter who work together to create a new type of techno music concert. Something completely out of the box, no doubt. This is where synergy can yield innovation.

Prototyping is also a great way to get out of the box. It encourages a wide variety of methods to be used, including creative processes like drama, which can stimulate our left brain hemisphere and therefore our creativity and sensitivity.

A final but important point in the DT method is that it must always take place in a comfortable environment. The creators of the method emphasise the importance of the conditions of those participating in the process. They must feel good physically to free themselves mentally and emotionally. Good food, physical exercise, fresh air, comfortable seats, a lot of free space. These are all essential to out-of-the-box thinking.

There are too many ideas! Which should I choose?

Well, this also happens. Especially when the group is diverse and the situation and space is conducive to generating many interesting solutions. In a well-run brainstorming session, we can come up to more than 50 ideas. Which one should be chosen for the next stage? Which one is worth nurturing?

One of the ways proposed by M-Powered moderators during DT is the process of voting. Of course, this is not a perfect solution, but it does give us the opportunity to consider each and every voice. It is also worth not limiting yourself to one idea but to take into account, for example, the three best ones, especially if these are varied. This way, we will have the opportunity to prototype some very different ideas and observe how the creative process unfolds for each.

Do you have other dilemmas while working creatively? Please get in touch and tell us about it. Together we will look for an empowered solution!

Participate in our Design Thinking course on the West Coast of Ireland to learn how to be more creative and use Design Thinking in your work and projects