Design Thinking

Design Thinking is identified as one of Matter’s top professional skills that drives performance and career success. Contrary to popular belief, soft skills like design thinking can also be learned and developed just like hard skills. Matter helps professionals tease out blindspots and areas for growth in skills like design thinking through regular peer-to-peer feedback.

What Is Design Thinking

Definition of Design Thinking: Applying user-centered methodologies to solve problems and create solutions.

Design thinkers often prioritize user needs over all else. Rather than making assumptions, they spend a lot of time observing their customers, brainstorming, prototyping, and testing their ideas. Through this approach, they are able to derive creative solutions to intricate problems. Leveraging empathy and experimentation to arrive at decisions helps teams better understand customers’ underlying problems and needs. Design thinking doesn’t rely entirely on hard data or instinct, but rather a blend of data and anticipation of future needs.

Great Design Thinkers You May Know

Katrina Lake: During the eCommerce boom in 2010, Lake observed and experienced first hand that unlike men, women didn’t have a reliable way or easy access to buy clothes online that fit well and look great. Through that experience, she established her subscription service Stitch Fix in 2011 to combine the ease of online shopping with her customers’ desire for better fitting and more stylish clothes. Today, Stitch Fix is a public company and has expanded their product offerings to include men, kids, expectant moms, and plus sizes.

Blake Mycoskie: While traveling in Argentina, Mycoskie met a volunteer who was distributing shoes to children in need. During that same trip, he began noticing that Argentinian polo players were wearing a comfortable slip-on footwear called alpargatas to protect their feet when playing on the field. He reimagined these alpargatas to create the popular shoe brand TOMS for style, comfort, and most importantly, social good. Mycoskie designed a sustainable business model that allowed TOMS to donate a pair of shoes to a disadvantaged child for every pair purchased.

Thomas Edison: Contrary to popular belief, Edison did not invent the first light bulb. Rather, he made practical improvements that allowed for light bulbs to be produced at scale and widely adopted. Instead of making broad assumptions, Edison’s ability to be empathetic and understand underlying customers’ issues led him to many late-night experimentations and tests. One of these prototypes eventually became the first practical carbon filament light bulb.

Why Design Thinking Is Important

  • Innovation: Learning to approach problems through observations enables you to be more creative with your solutions. Thinking outside the box and trying new ideas should always be encouraged.
  • User Experience: What are the goals of the end user? Which problems are they seeking answers for? Anticipating these questions can lead to user-based solutions that solve existing and future problems.
  • Team Success: Teams who practice design thinking are more successful because they are open to hearing out ideas, even when they may disagree with them. They understand the best ideas are the ones that benefit the end users, not their egos.

What Design Thinking Isn’t About

  • Ignoring The Small Details: Rapid iteration is a signature characteristic of design thinking. As you rapidly prototype and iterate, remember that the devil is in the details. Move fast, but don’t ignore the small details.
  • Making Assumptions: Observing and anticipating customer needs is different than making assumptions. Rely on data and feedback to make thoughtful recommendations instead of jumping to conclusions.
  • Overcomplicating: Sometimes the grand design gets overly complex. Seeking streamlined solutions allows teams to avoid coming up with overcomplicated solutions. Most often, the simplest solution is the best of all.

Abilities That Lead To The Mastery of Design Thinking

Brainstorming: Brainstorming is a semi-structured, team-based method of rapid idea generation. It can help you and your team generate ideas quickly, hear ideas from a broader group and build team enthusiasm.

Empathizing with users: Empathizing is an early step in design thinking where you obtain an understanding of the problem, typically through user research. Empathy is crucial because it allows you to set aside your own assumptions to gain insight into users and their needs. To empathize you observe, engage, watch, and listen to your users.

Defining the problem: Defining a problem statement will provide your team with a focus on the specific user needs that you have uncovered. Properly defining the problem statement brings clarity and focus to help you create the right solution. The problem statement should be about the people the team is trying to help, rather than focussing on technology or solutions.

Asking the five whys: The Five Whys is a technique to discover the root cause of a problem. By asking “Why?” five times you get to the root of what happened. Do not be satisfied with the initial answer to your first question. Instead, turn the answer you receive into a second “why.”

Generating a broad range of ideas: Generating lots of ideas is part of the ideation process in design thinking. This is where people with open minds generate ideas in working sessions. The goal of ideation is not about coming up with the ”right” idea, it’s about generating a broad range of ideas.

Persona building: Personas give you and your team a shared understanding of users in terms of goals and capabilities. A persona is a representation of the needs, thoughts, and goals of the target user. Personas help you and your team stay focused on solving for your target end users.

Prototyping: By taking the time to prototype ideas, you can avoid adding too much complexity too early in the process. Prototyping enables a team to fail quickly and cheaply so that less time and money is invested in an idea that turns out to be a bad one. A prototype can be anything that a user can interact with like a clickable interactive prototype.

Synthesizing Information: Data comes from multiple sources and has many different forms, both qualitative and quantitative. Synthesizing information is the ability to make sense of information and find insight and opportunity within. You can use methods like clustering and empathy maps to help you define and synthesize your observations.

Testing ideas: Revisions can be the key to success. By testing your ideas with users you will gather the feedback required to learn what is right and what is wrong with your ideas. Be sure to test your ideas with the right people, keep an open mind, and let your users build on your ideas.

Thinking outside the box: Thinking outside of the box can lead to innovative solutions. Thinking outside of the box can be a challenge as people develop patterns of thinking that are modeled on past experiences. Out-of-the-box thinking requires being open to new ways of seeing the world and a willingness to explore.

Explore Roles That Benefit From Design Thinking

Who can benefit from practicing design thinking? Matter is helping professionals at all levels get actionable feedback to improve their design thinking.

  • CEOs who are looking to become better leaders and cultivate company culture
  • Designers who want to grow their professional and soft skills
  • Freelancers who work without a traditional team and want feedback
  • Project Managers looking to improve their cross-functional collaboration skills
  • Software Engineers who aspire to become a tech lead or manager

Explore Complementary Skills to Design Thinking

Design Thinking shouldn’t be practiced in a vacuum. Improve your design thinking by exploring and developing these complementary skills.

  • Presentation Skills: Delivers effective, understandable, and engaging presentations to a variety of audiences
  • Productivity: Accomplishes an above average amount of work without excessive stress
  • Resourcefulness: Overcomes challenging problems in an effective way
  • Storytelling: Creates an engaging oral or written message that contains a lesson via a narrative
  • Vision: Possesses innovative ideas about how things can be vastly improved in the future

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