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Design thinking is more than facilitating workshops

  • Posted on August 14, 2018
  • Estimated reading time 2 minutes
design-thinking

Design thinking has definitively become a buzzword in the last three or four years. As a designer, I can't be anything but enthusiastic about this new way of working. Nevertheless, as things become mainstream, there is a huge risk in making the topic trivial.


People that I used to work with a long time ago know how much I love sticky notes and how much I value including stakeholders in gamestorming-based workshops. But design thinking is much more than that. It's time to discover, or even rediscover, the beautiful complexity behind this amazing human-centered approach.

Let's start with the difficult art of discovery. Facilitating stakeholder workshops falls into this category but it’s just a small slice of the whole: digging out meaningful data from a wide variety of sources. Designers are, first and foremost, social scientists. They know how to frame and conduct qualitative research, such as in-depth interviews, focus groups and ethnographic studies. They are able to deal with secondary data such as white papers and scientific reports. The most prepared designers are even able to run quantitative studies. Moreover, they are experts in making sense of the data they gathered and drawing insights from it. If you want to delve into this topic, please have a look into Jan Chipchase’s Field Study Handbook, probably the best book about what discovery means for a designer.

Discovery is just the beginning of the journey. Interpretation transforms the data gathered into meaningful insights and actionable opportunities for ideation. This is where design thinking comes to the forefront. Ideation is much more than pulling together a set of insights, it is coming out with a fully-fledged concept that sets the basis of all the future steps of the solution. Visualizing the concept is one of the hardest tasks: metaphors, storyboards, videos. We use whatever we can to convey the meaning of the concept, which is useful to gain the stakeholders’ consensus. This no longer requires sticky notes, but it is still considered design thinking.

Thereafter, we take the pencils out and start to sketch the solution. We refine the concept and we make it tangible by creating diagrams, storyboards, paper mock-ups or high-fidelity prototypes. Next, we move into the build phase. Because designers stay onboard throughout the idea realization, they give precious contributions for execution.

Discovery, ideation, prototype and build. Any activity that falls into those four blocks is design thinking. And it requires more skills than being able to facilitate a workshop or a brainstorming session. It all requires various skills in research, ideation, visualization, detailed design and front-end development. That's why a design team is usually composed with different professionals working together, everyone focused on their own roles. Of course, anyone can apply design thinking but designers must collaborate more and more with a variety of professionals and should be sitting at the same table. Otherwise, you risk not going much beyond a bunch of (useless) sticky notes.

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