What is Design Thinking?
Global innovation design company IDEO is often credited with coining the term “Design Thinking”. A process of creative problem solving, design thinking puts the needs of the user first, while challenging assumptions and redefining problems to come up with alternative solutions that may not have been immediately apparent. It is a user-centric approach to re-looking at how products and services can be developed or enhanced such that the end-user or consumer has their needs met.
Design thinking begins with understanding unmet customer needs and reframing the problem with the user in mind and brainstorming for solutions. These insights will lead to a process of innovation that encompasses concept development, applied creativity, prototyping and experimentation.
Design thinking involves constant testing and iteration to go from best practices to better practices. It supports the idea of failing early and fast by prototyping early-stage versions of the idea; testing them on a small scale to see what works; and then gathering data to decide what makes sense.
Why is design thinking so important?
We now live and work in an increasingly complex and uncertain world. Design thinking enables us to develop new ways of visualising, understanding, and solving our problems. It helps us to understand and be empathetic toward our users and to reduce the risk involved when launching new products and services. It also helps to generate great ideas and learn and iterate quicker. It can transform the way organisations develop products, services, processes, and strategies.
In recent years, design thinking has become increasingly popular in many industries as established companies try to apply designers’ problem-solving techniques to corporate innovation processes. In Singapore, design thinking was identified as one of the critical skills for the future workforce.
Phases of design thinking
The practice of design thinking is not always linear and you might even jump back and forth between some of the steps a few times before progressing. The phases of design thinking are: framing a question (identifying and reframing a problem); gathering inspiration (finding out what people really need); generating ideas (brainstorming for breakthrough ideas); making ideas tangible (prototyping); testing to learn (refining ideas, getting feedback and experimenting); sharing the story (inspiring others to action).
The National Library Board, Singapore (NLB), for instance, has applied design thinking to its projects, for instance, library@orchard (re-opened in November 2014). It conducted interviews with the public to find out what they wanted from the revamped library (reframing a problem and finding out what people need). Several prototypes of the space were developed and shared in an exhibition (brainstorming and prototyping). The public voted for their favourite designs and gave suggestions to improve the design of the library (testing to learn, refining ideas, experimenting). library@orchard was eventually awarded the President’s Design award in 2015.
You can check out the references below to further your understanding of the concepts and process of design thinking, as well as how to apply design thinking to your business.
IDEO. “Design Thinking Defined”. Accessed September 2, 2021. https://designthinking.ideo.com/
IDEO U. “What is Design Thinking?”. Accessed September 22, 2021. https://www.ideou.com/blogs/inspiration/what-is-design-thinking
Seow, Joanna. “New National Framework for Design Skills to Drive Innovation in Singapore”. Last updated July 24, 2019. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/new-national-framework-for-design-skills-to-drive-innovation-in-singapore
See, Bridgette. “Library@Orchard: Deliberately Designed with Users in Mind”. Challenge. Posted March 17, 2015. https://www.psd.gov.sg/challenge/ideas/deep-dive/deliberately-designed-with-users-in-mind
Plattner, Hasso. “An Introduction to Design Thinking: Process Guide”. Accessed September 2, 2021. https://web.stanford.edu/~mshanks/MichaelShanks/files/509554.pdf