Design thinking is a relatively new approach to problem-solving that tries to implement the methods that designers use in their work at different stages of the development process. Today, design thinking is increasingly conquering the business world, it is applied in organizations from various industries, it is studied in numerous business schools, and different interpretations of this concept are still present.
Design thinking combines creative and analytical approaches and requires collaboration between different disciplines – combining engineering and design methods with art ideas, social science tools, and business techniques.
Design thinking uses two main ways of thinking: divergent and convergent. Divergent thinking refers to creating as many possible solutions to a certain problem as possible, which is best shown in the ideation phase. Convergent thinking is focused on finding a single, best solution to a given problem. Combining these two ways of thinking may seem contradictory and challenging but that is the essence of design thinking.
Design thinking has a strong focus on user-centered solutions, on solutions based on understanding their motivation and empathy. Design thinking is primarily a process that encourages creativity and emphasizes the importance of real knowledge of users, their wishes, and needs, i.e. those individuals who will really use the product or service. It should be borne in mind that the customer is the one who will pay for the product or service, but he/she does not always have to be the user (e.g. in the IT world, the customer can be an intermediary who will offer the service/product to third parties) or donate the service to the end-user.
When emerging, the approach was focused on product development, and its application later came to life in service development, strategy creation, strategic planning, corporate policymaking, but also through general brainstorming sessions in various areas where it is possible to develop empathy and understand users.
What is sure is that design thinking is used a lot in building websites as this job is focused to satisfy user needs. Of course, not if a pre-made platform for site creation is used but only if a professional web designer is hired to build a website for money.
In connection to this, design thinking is an important component of building marketing communication messages, more specifically in e-mail campaigns which, on their side, can be enriched by incorporating Benchmark or similar service whose goal is to take care of collecting and designing your e-mails so that you can focus on just composing them. Due to its problem-solving characteristic and providing convenience (as the two critical expectations of users it seeks to meet in its core), design thinking can benefit you a lot in any of your efforts to move people through a set of distinct experiences (software, marketing, etc.).
For example, in the German company SAP (market leader in enterprise application software), for the development and introduction of new strategies related to the concept of Web 2.0, a design thinking approach was used. By adopting design thinking, Rotterdam Eye Hospital (the largest cataract center in the Netherlands) understood the essence of the needs of its clients and found effective ways to satisfy them. Google developed its version of this approach in the form of a five-day workshop called Design Sprint.
Steps in the application of design thinking can be presented in several ways, as organizations/companies adapt the steps and define their application models. One of the most significant is the so-called ‘d.school’ model used by the Institute of Design at Stanford University and which relies on the double diamond design.
The first phase of the model is the development of empathy, and the focus is on understanding the user in the context of the design challenge. The definition phase follows, which refers to the introduction of more clarity into the design space. The ideation phase is the basis for prototyping and bringing innovative solutions into contact with the user. The prototype phase involves the iterative creation of a solution and provides answers to important questions in order to approach the final solution. Lastly, the testing phase refers to collecting feedback from users and represents another chance for them to be better understood.
Innovations can arise as a result of technological progress and development that are brought to market through new products, services, and processes in the expectation that users will accept new solutions (Technology-push model), but also as a result of technological response to perceived market needs and user requirements (Market-pull model). In that sense, we can point out that design thinking has several elements of a Market-pull approach, engaging the attitudes, reactions, and desires of potential users in the process of generating ideas and solving problems. This process is not linear and the focus is on finding solutions, not on defining the problem.
Another important feature of design thinking is that it aims to reduce uncertainty and the risk of failure, as potential users are involved at the beginning of the process to test the initial assumptions. Based on the quick feedback, the activities are repeated until a solution is found that really meets the needs of the users. Design thinking is also an excellent framework for combining collective expertise and developing realistic and acceptable solutions, thanks to the formation of multidisciplinary teams, with members who have specific experience and expertise. The special significance of such teams is in the stages of prototype testing.
In traditional innovation processes, design has found its place as one of the last steps in the development process. Today, designers and other participants in the innovation process are not required to make the developed idea and concept more attractive to the user, but to participate in creating and developing ideas and concepts throughout the innovation process in order to best meet the wishes and needs of users. The design thus becomes a significant factor in formulating strategy and creating new value.
Critics of design thinking are primarily those who point to the importance of the Technology-push model, where the user is not realistically aware and cannot see or predict the possibilities of applying the technology as scientists and researchers can (the most famous example is Apple’s iPhone). They advocate the key role of research and development in innovation processes. According to them, if the basis of research and development is built on meeting the needs of users, the use of the full potential of technological development and the development of science can be hindered. Such examples are most often related to the military industry, pharmacy, IT, and medical sciences.
There are some other objections to design thinking but the recommendation is that good practices should be applied rather than insisting on questionable conceptual settings. Involving users in phases where their help is not needed or not significant can jeopardize the innovation process itself, prolong time and increase costs, without the obvious benefit of applying the popular concept. Experienced organizations manage to find a balance in involving users in the innovation process.
Design thinking was used at Procter & Gamble, where, in addition to chemists and marketing experts, anthropologists and psychologists specializing in the behavioral aspect are involved in the product development process. User reactions to the prototype were observed, and iterative processes through design thinking led to the creation of a better user experience and greater success in the commercialization of new products.