Design Thinking Quick Reference Guide

design thinking phases

Design thinking is an approach to problem solving defined by these key attributes:

  • Emphasis on discovery before solution using market based research focusing predominately on user experience
  • Challenges our comfortable thought process and examines all variables for problem definitions and possible solutions
  • Openly and joyously embraces collaberation
  • Committed to real world experiences and rapid prototyping over historical data analysis

When looking to solve a problem, Design Thinking can be viewed as iterative and always in motion. On the surface Design Thinking appears to lack the scientific rigor which solves layered complex problems–However its robust toolset is equipped to creatively formulate insights into new ideas.

This cognitive model has been used by Apple and other fortune 100 companies to produce their most successful products. Look at this model as a creative approach to problem solving and a strategic capability to help consistently solve your most perplexing problems and drive bottom line.

What does design thinking ask?

Asking four basic questions Design Thinking seeks to reframe, unpack, and expand your current understanding of a problem. I know this sounds like we’re saying the same thing over–cause I am! But this is what it takes for you to develop a new thinking model sure to advance your creativity and help you continually make good decisions over and over again.

What is?

The What is? step in Design Thinking explores the current state of the problem. Time and again we want to jump right into what we think is the problem–this isn’t helping! You can’t just run to the future and start brainstorming potential solutions without first understanding the present situation.

Logically if you want to convince someone of you’re right start with what you agree is the problem. From this point you walk them through logical steps based on facts to get them to a solution–this is what design thinking does! It creatively walks you through the logic of designing winning solutions.

Taking time to understand the actual problem pays off in a couple different ways:

  • It ensures we aren’t defining the problem too narrowly, we must not leave any possible option on the table.
  • It helps uncover unarticulated needs that are needed to define valuable creative criteria for successful solutions

What is? creates an actual solution and frames a target space for what success actually looks like. This stage allows  us to imagine the ideal state without having to necessarily use our imaginations. We make sure the point of view of the decision maker is the focal point, this way, we have something to shoot for, and decreases the chance of the solution failing. The information gathered during this time via quantitative and qualitative tactics are used to drive process and set criteria for our Design Goals.

One of the key tactics in the discovery aspects of  What is? is Journey Mapping a customers experience. Genuine engagement centers on compatibility and harmoniously marrying both the customer and product/service. Mapping the journey of the experience allows you to plot the highs and lows of the experience and provide those Ah-ha interactions leaving positive impressions.

Journey mapping to-do’s:

  • Personas – these characters illustrate the main goals, thoughts, feelings and affordance of your customers
  • Timelines – Finite amount of time your story for which the journey will take place lives or variable phase
  • Touchpoints – Customer interaction with your business, what is he or she doing
  • Channels – Where interaction with the business of product takes place

I recommend checking out this UX journey mapping article for more info

What if?

The What if? builds on the more data driven What is? and moves information into a creative formulation criteria and helps define actual goals. The ethnographic findings of quantitative research should uncover core behaviors, and quantitative filtering of data hopefully shows patterns of end users. The data collected creates the design criteria helps us imagine what an ideal state looks like to the decision maker.

Your criteria should be modeled something similar to the following points:

  • Design goal
    • Unmet needs and what you consider to be the present problem
  • User perceptions
    • What do they expect?
    • Affordance
  • Attributes
    • Size/Shape/Time
    • Context
    • Functionality
  • Contraints
    • Timeline and budget
    • compliance

Once a criteria is agreed upon, strategic conversation is had using a few of the following design thinking tools:

  • Visualization
  • Metaphoric thinking
  • Brainstorming
  • Rapid prototyping

These tools are not all encompassing but will help create a conversation about what things look like in the future.

What Wows?

The What wows? helps us bridge the gap between research and design. If we’ve done everything correctly we can now analyze the data to understand users and their respective goals. In this step requirements are unearthed, satisfying and inspiring prototypes are created, while simultaneously addressing business goals and constraints.

In this phase there are three key elements:

  • Testing assumptions with each concept
  • Testing assumptions with customers using prototypes
  • Combining all the most promising elements into one prototype to iteratively test and refine.

What Works?

The following three things define What Works?

  • Creates assumptions to test concepts
  • Engages with potential end users to understand What Works?
  • Group asks whether or not this prototype will be further developed?

At this point all the most promising elements should have been combined to create a testable concept which can be tested and refined.

Design Thinking is a very useful way to uncover elements for new ideas in just about any domain. The upside of Design Thinking is tremendous and I’m excited to see it evolve as the go to problem solving model of the future. We hope this quick overview inspires you to dive deeper into Design Thinking and you use it to positively impact your organization.