Problem solving is an important skill for anyone to possess. Naturally, humans develop patterns as to how they solve problems. These patterns “assist us in quickly applying the same actions and knowledge in similar or familiar situations, but they also have the potential to prevent us from quickly and easily accessing or developing new ways of seeing, understanding and solving problems.”[i] In order to improve in our ability to become a better problem solver, it’s important that we don’t get stuck in the same patterns, and “think outside the box” when it comes to problem solving. One way to do so, is to develop design thinking skills.
“Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding.”[ii] It not only involves thinking and processing the problem, but also a hands-on approach that really forces a designer to dig deep into the root of the problem and understand all aspects to develop a clearer solution. It provides a “solution-based approach to solving problems.”[iii] “Fortune 500 names such as Apple, Microsoft, Disney, and IBM have demonstrated the intrinsic value of “design thinking” as a competitive advantage that impacts the bottom line and drives business growth.”[iv]
The key to successful problem solving through design thinking is to develop an understanding of the audience for which we are designing for. This could involve a specific product, as well as a service. “Design Thinking is extremely useful in tackling problems that are ill-defined or unknown, by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways.”[v] “Perhaps the most valuable take-away from the design thinking approach is that empathy should inform and drive the solution. Whether it’s client empathy or learner empathy, it facilitates a pivot in perspective that may have been missed otherwise” states Michael Noble, Chief Learning Strategist and COO at TTA.
With this new frame of mind, the process for design thinking includes brainstorming sessions that draw out new and creative ideas, and prototyping and testing that creates a more solid solution. There are five common steps, proposed by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, to design thinking, that simplify the process.[vi]
- Empathize – with your users, understanding their experiences and motivations.
- Define – your users’ needs, their problem, and your insights from data collected in the previous step.
- Ideate – by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions, you can begin to “think outside the box.”
- Prototype – to start creating solutions, experimenting to define the best possible one based on user experience.
- Test – solutions
Although this seems like more of a linear approach, design thinking usually involves a team that could be working on multiple steps at the same time using a more iterative approach. For example, prototyping can happen from the beginning to continually be able to bring ideas to the table. Or, sometimes during the test phase, things will come up that scraps that solution, or it needs to be re-worked which sends to the team back one or two steps. “This creates a perpetual loop, in which the designers continue to gain new insights, develop new ways of viewing the product and its possible uses, and develop a far more profound understanding of the users and the problems they face.”[vii]
To conclude, as one of TTA’s 2019 trends, design thinking “allows for more targeted development of individuals and leaders.”[viii] It’s flexibility is making it far more popular than traditional problem solving. “Design thinking, fundamentally, recognizes that design should achieve purpose and business goals, not just beauty.”[ix] It promotes collaboration between designers and users, paying close attention to how “real users think, feel, and behave.”[x] A concept that isn’t always thought about in problem solving, but can be critical to developing a successful solution.