Design Thinking a Profound Concept
Humans today inhabit a multidimensional, seamless, borderless world, where millions of individual trajectories and paths criss-cross inadvertently. And in turn give rise to a ripple effect of sorts. The complexity of these interactions has been further compounded by the integration of technology into the very fabric of living. The way we think, the way we eat, we breathe, and love are intertwined inextricably with the rest of our fellow beings and machines. We no longer are, and cannot be, alone!!
Our problems too, whether individual or those of the society as a whole, are linked in unimaginable ways and seem to have no clear beginnings or ends with no easy unidimensional solutions in sight. In a world like this hence, the need to transform the way we look at problems and the way we ferret out solutions, has become an urgent necessity and an inescapable fact.
What comes to the rescue perhaps is a new way of thinking which could be applicable to all spheres and domains of human existence. Design Thinking seems to hold novel answers to humungous world problems.
Design in itself is a very profound concept and is at the core of things living and non-living, deeply embedded in the conception of life itself. The forces of nature are continually engaged in the genesis of that perfect design which will transcend the vicissitudes and perpetuate itself through eons of generations.
Design Thinking is bringing the elements of design into every aspect of human life in ways that bring about a transformation in the manner we think about the problems that face us, be they in business, education, health, or even lifestyle. It is a “solution based” approach to problems rather than a “problem” based approach, where the human element of desirability, technological element of feasibility and the business element of viability interact and generate innovation at their intersection, in an iterative manner.
One of the reasons why the traditional analytical methods of solving problems do not produce the desired outcome is due to the linear way of finding a solution to the problem, with the problem at one end and the solution at the other.
The nature of today’s problems demand a radically different way of collaborating which bring together deep empathy for humans and their unique sets of needs, creative thinking and critical thinking, into solving problems; The method used is one of iteration, where each set of answers serve as the input for the next level of problem defining and solving. It also forces our minds to be open and to think out-of-the-box.
The paradigm shift is from looking at solutions through the traditional logical lens to looking at the same parameters through the lens of creativity. At all times the solutions are driven by defining user needs.
The end result is innovation, which is a new idea. Several such new ideas juxtaposed together produce patterns, which after analysis and synthesis, pave the way to build a new prototype of either a product, service or a process. This again needs to be tested. Once tested and put through several feedback loops, called iteration this can serve as a new way to address a problem more efficiently or produce a more effective device or a process.
The method allows to uncover latent needs, unmet and unarticulated needs, desires and behaviours of users; these are then applied to make new products, processes, devices and strategies resulting in a better and seamless user experience.
Some of the tools used by companies to evaluate different components of this design process is The Forrester Innovation Heat Index, a model used to evaluate multiple ideas that are generated from various sources which finally lead to innovation. Philips uses The Experience Flow which keeps in focus the practical and emotional needs of the end-users, to drive innovation.
The method of Design Thinking has played an important role in transforming organisations by engendering the “design mind-set” in employees who are trained in the principles and methodologies of applying design to address issues and solve them.
To be completely effective it is not enough for only a handful of employees to incorporate Design thinking culture. It needs to necessarily percolate from the top level management and is implemented at all levels.
Apple and Google are companies which have adopted the culture of design thinking to their advantage; in fact employees at Google get 20% of their time to think through problems at hand and design solutions.
Procter and Gamble has made a disposable mop called Swiffer applying techniques of design thinking, which obviates the need to clean the mop and which can be thrown after use. This strategy was born after assessing the existing products and issues that the users had with them.
Walmart has used this process of innovation to harness renewable sources of energy and overtake companies like Ikea and Apple.
The team at Philips has taken a few steps ahead and has embarked on linking together groups of innovations, generating ecosystems, for more wholesome and interconnected experiences like smart homes where kitchen gadgets, air conditioners , TV can communicate with each other and adjust to individual needs of temperature, weather, day and night times. Or in smart healthcare where critical radiological data can be shared by clinicians across the world which facilitates easy and faster diagnosis.
Within their organisation they have moved from mere Design Thinking to design doing, where it is not enough to have just multidisciplinary teams. They also adopt a technique called Rapid Co-creation where solutions are rapidly found and implemented in different business aspects. This has positively affected the daily functioning of teams.
Infosys, has embraced Design Thinking in a big way and has initiated a “Digital Culture” in organisations. It has conducted about 30 client workshops on Design Thinking to educate the employees and the customers about how beneficial it is to have a “customer- obsessed” approach, providing a clear competitive edge to Infosys. So far it has trained 36000 employees including 500 senior level executives and plans to rope in a total of 1, 70,000. Employees are taught how to look for, and at, customer issues and to use the principles of design to innovate and find the right solutions. Metlife, on the other hand, has created its own innovation lab.
IDEO is one of the pioneering design companies which has propagated Design Thinking for business solutions and works with organisations to bring about a shift in their work culture by imbibing its methodologies.
All said and done there are various factors that could impede application of this new mode, thereby negating innovation. These range from not having an open mind to change, out of fear, not allowing room for failure, to an inability to motivate and gear the entire workforce to work on the same platform. Most importantly it is impossible to keep pace with changes in user preferences which are quite volatile. Design thinking also cannot optimise or streamline any processes.
Like all things which hold great promise and all things which promise good things and deliver them as long as they adhere to their core principles, there is a real danger when creativity which drives design thinking, is applied automatically as a series of standardised steps. This then essentially rules out the possibility of design thinking.
To conclude, I quote a clich of Change is constant, and the elements that make up our world are in a constant state of flux. Rather than have humans becoming adept at adapting to technology it would be wiser to have technology adapt to humans. It is for us now to delve deep into and access that space where innovation is generated and from where solutions to a more productive and a peaceful world can emerge.
Here’s wishing joy, peace and health to all!