Design Thinking – A creative process …

The success of a startup is highly dependent on its ability to solve a problem or to meet a market need. In order to find the right solution you need to be empathetic and understand your customer which sounds easy but in reality it really really isn’t! Many startups fail because they don’t have enough customers, so building a product that people want is a massive challenge. I wish there was a magic formula that would enable founders to build solutions that people want but unfortunately that formula doesn’t exist. There isn’t a single method or article or workshop that will give you the correct answer. However, what we can do is tackle a problem using different tools and methods and we can keep on trying till we get it right. One of these tools is “Design Thinking”, personally I have always been an analytical thinker but  about three years ago I was introduced to design thinking as a creative way to solve problems especially in the startup world and I found it interesting. I was happy to know that there was a practitioner who was looking to do an indepth design thinking workshop in Kuwait, we will be hosting her workshop at Sirdab Lab in collaboration with Nuqat but I also wanted to interview her for our StartupQ8 community. Below is Yara’s interview, Enjoy 🙂

What is design thinking?

Through out his book “Design Thinking,” Nigel Cross claims that everyone is capable of designing, from kids to elderly, each in their unique manner. Cross refers to design as a plan to create something, from a building blueprint to a stick figure. The evidence from different cultures around the world, and from designs created by children as well as by adults, suggests that everyone is capable of designing.

So design thinking is something “inherent within human cognition; it is a key part of what makes us human.” Design thinking is rooted to the way designers connect with people (users and consumers), how they come to a problem from the people’s perspective, and how they create meaningful experiences for them. Design thinking is about methodology as much as it is about culture. Thus designers have to make sense of the place they are in to discover opportunities and be inspired by them.

Nigel Cross defines design thinking as “the study of the cognitive processes that are manifested in design action.” He supports the previous statement by stating that design thinking “is better understood as an activity of the problem-solving process.”

How can it help startups?
A startup is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed. Design thinking is a combination of analytical (the present facts) and creative (the envisioned future) thinking. Design thinking can be adopted in startups as an approach to break down the current context, know the target audience involved, and then envision the best solution accordingly. Design thinking allows testing early hypotheses before launching the final product to the market, this saves time and resources, and could result in successful project results.

People are now more savvy than they were 5 years ago, so they won’t put up with a poorly designed product or service if there’s a better alternative out there. If we really want to win customers over, we need to think beyond the product and services, we need to think about how to create a tailored, harmonic and enjoyable user experience for our customers.

Can you provide case studies or examples where design thinking has had tremendous value?
Businesses, like IDEO, a pioneer today within the service design sector, and others, are embracing design thinking because it helps them come up with more innovative ideas, thereby better differentiating their brands, and bring their products and services to the market faster. Non profits organizations are also beginning to use design thinking as well to develop better solutions to social challenges. Today, the government in the UK is using design thinking to solve social challenges. The beauty of design thinking is its flexibility to tackle all kinds of challenges.

Procter and Gamble initiates design thinking workshops to bring together employees from across the consumer-products giant, including R&D, market research, and purchasing, to show the impact of visualization and prototyping when solving real problems for the company. Others companies like Philips, Apple, General Electric, Volkswagen, and even universities are adopting design thinking as a problem solving and teaching method.

Which methods do you follow and why?
Since design thinking is a fairly new methodology in today’s market, there has been various and constant research around it. Today, design thinking has bridged various disciplines such as business, sociology, science, and various others. For this reason, many of the methods used within design thinking come from its multi-disciplinary background.

I use creative methods likes Personas that allow designers and creators to give life to the users I am targeting. Customer Journey is another effective tool that follows Personas to map out the overall experience of the user using a certain service or product. Such tools give birth to empathy and connection to the user, thereby creating human-centered solutions. I also follow my heart and gut instincts, they always mean something. Methods like Role Play are great at envisioning solutions and connect with the user. Group building methods are also effective to build a holistic team composed of different personalities and competencies.

What are the steps of design thinking and can you briefly explain each step?
Every design thinking process starts with a challenge, problem, or case study acting as the main issue from which user research and context starts. Like any challenge in whatever context, one must understand the current situation, context, people related, and exterior factors; let’s call this first phase, (1) Collect Information. After getting a general overview on the situation and people involved, one must dig deeper to extract specific user needs and circumstances. Design thinking is based on human centered-design, working to cater the needs of the users or consumers involved. Usually after this step there is a river of information about the situation and the people around it. This is where the second phase, (2) Connect the Findings follows, in an attempt to connect all the findings and make sense of them. This will lead to spotting patterns, habits, and norms that naturally form themes or working areas where one can move to third phase (3) Extract Opportunities. The trick in this phase is to generate as many ideas as possible, preferably the most innovative and out of the box. Generating ideas is usually done through brainstorming in groups consisting of people from different backgrounds, this gives birth to eclectic and innovative ideas under one roof. Only a few ideas usually make it to the next phase, ready to be implemented. After filtration and evolution to reach the most promising idea, phase four, (4) Execute a Solution, follows. This is when the idea chosen is morphed into a tangible and visible product or service. Here quick prototyping and iteration is encouraged to call for feedback from users until the desired solution comes to life. Such phase are set in order, however that doesn’t mean that one can’t go back and forth to reassure findings and dig deeper; design thinking is a cycle.

Whats the difference between analytical thinking and design thinking?
Unlike analytical thinking, which is associated with the breaking down of ideas, design thinking is a creative process based on the building up of ideas. As Baeck & Gremett put it, “analytical approaches focus on narrowing the design choices, while design thinking focuses on going broad, at least during the early stages of the process.” Analytic decisions are great for breaking things down into smaller parts, which is necessary for a math problem. But intuition (design thinking) is about looking at patterns and wholes, which is needed when making quick decisions about whether something is real or fake, ugly or pretty, right or wrong. Testing intuition against analysis, Pratt and co-authors Erik Dane, of Rice University and Kevin W. Rockmann, of George Mason, found that people can trust their gut and rely on intuition when making a broad evaluation in an area where they have in-depth knowledge of the subject, also referred to as domain expertise. In design thinking, designers do not make any early judgments about the quality of ideas. As a result, this minimizes the fear of failure and maximizes input and participation in the ideation, brainstorming, and prototype phases. “Outside the box thinking and wild ideas” are encouraged in the early stages of the process, since this style of thinking is believed to lead to creative solutions that would not have emerged otherwise.

Are there tools we can actively use to enhance our creativity process and ideation?
Brainstorming is an effective tool, used by many. However, the trick to it is to allow people from different disciplines and backgrounds to brainstorm together, without pre-judgments and second thoughts. Brainstorming encourages the right brain to express the crazy ideas that can be bought closer to reality later on in the process. The working environment is very essential when it comes to a group of people working together to find a solution. Creativity can’t be forced is one is not at ease to express and be heard either by their college or even boss. Another trick to ideation is visuals, we are all creative people if we are given the right tools and environment to draw our ideas out.

Can you please tell us more about your upcoming workshop and the learning outcomes?
Luckily, the coming weekend, September 18, 19, and 20, I will be conducting a workshop entitled Design Thinking: The Process of Startup Success at Sirdab Lab, Dasman, in collaboration with Nuqat. Such an opportunity will allow me to share my learning and experience of using design thinking as a creative and innovative problem solving approach. It is an open workshop for everyone who would like to experience, hands-on, the power of using creative methods to learn more about the consumers needs, create and analyze a complete experience for them, test hypotheses, work in multidisciplinary groups, and most important of all HAVE A PRODUCTIVE & FUN WEEKEND. Remember design thinking is not just for those who work in the creative and marketing domain, on the contrary design thinking should be practiced by all. Today in countries Denmark, UK, and Holland, design thinking is being taught to doctors and nurses to help them design better experiences for their patients.

Whats the difference between analytical thinking and design thinking?
Unlike analytical thinking, which is associated with the breaking down of ideas, design thinking is a creative process based on the building up of ideas. As Baeck & Gremett put it, “analytical approaches focus on narrowing the design choices, while design thinking focuses on going broad, at least during the early stages of the process.” Analytic decisions are great for breaking things down into smaller parts, which is necessary for a math problem. But intuition (design thinking) is about looking at patterns and wholes, which is needed when making quick decisions about whether something is real or fake, ugly or pretty, right or wrong. Testing intuition against analysis, Pratt and co-authors Erik Dane, of Rice University and Kevin W. Rockmann, of George Mason, found that people can trust their gut and rely on intuition when making a broad evaluation in an area where they have in-depth knowledge of the subject, also referred to as domain expertise. In design thinking, designers do not make any early judgments about the quality of ideas. As a result, this minimizes the fear of failure and maximizes input and participation in the ideation, brainstorming, and prototype phases. “Outside the box thinking and wild ideas” are encouraged in the early stages of the process, since this style of thinking is believed to lead to creative solutions that would not have emerged otherwise.

A little about Yara Al Adib…
I have recently came back to Kuwait, one of the places I call home, from Milano, Italy, where I was doing my Masters in Service Design and Social Innovation at Politecnico di Milano. My stay in Europe for three years has opened my eyes to many things I didn’t previously see and comprehend when I was back at American University of Beirut studying Graphic Design. I now see beyond the graphics printed or pixels projected, today I see the meaning behind each color, layout, and choice made.

I am a multi-disciplinary designer that mixes a bit of graphic, service, product, strategy, and experience design to create a holistic and comprehensive outcome. I always start with putting myself in the shoes of the person I am designing for and from there I mix and match and test until I reach a human-centered and innovative outcome.

Yara’s Contact Information:
email: yfa06(at)aub(dot)edu(dot)lb
portfolio: be.net/YaraAlAdib

About Yara’s workshop: sirdab-lab.com/designthinking 

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