Design Thinking is a buzz term and a darling of executives hoping to solve all their companies (digital) shortcomings with a dash of this magic. Hire a bunch of people who have ‘Design Thinking’ in their CV and you’re golden. Why does this approach not work?
Failures of Design Thinking
Bruce Nussbaum describes the flaws that brought Design Thinking to it’s knees as “a process trick would produce significant cultural and organizational change“. The ultimate goal of the Design Thinking process and method, is to produce creativity and allow that creativity to drive innovation. And while a process can aide and support this goal, at the end of the day it is only that: a process, a method. It does not, in and by itself produce creative innovative output.
Corporations and their leaders focus too strongly on the latest hot buzzword, often lacking a deeper understanding and true support for the change that it requires. We can observe this especially clear in Job Postings, where candidates are asked if they apply Design Thinking, or Mobile First, or Agile Development, or Lean UX… the list goes on. But when candidates who often live and breathe these new ways of working, actually start their work at the corporation, they are not only not supported but actually held back by the existing structures as well as an unwillingness to change and apply these new processes and methods, which they were hired for.
Applications for Design Thinking
But Design Thinking is a valid and effective method. When used in the right circumstances and allowed to flourish. Design Thinking does not produce Innovation – creative minds do. But Design thinking as a methodology, can produce the right path to develop innovation. It works wonders if you have a product or product idea in place. Using design thinking to (1) Identify the pain points and ask the right questions (this is where most projects fail), (2) define your target and current audience and your goals, (3) get creative (ideation, mind-mapping, brainstorming, scamper, etc…), (4) build a prototype and (5) test it. The most important part however is that you do this process over and over, learning from your test results to improve your definitions and ideas and iterate the whole cycle. For this approach to be successful, you must be allowed to produce a first prototype that will not be expected to be perfect. Releasing a product that is known to have problems is a non-starter for many stakeholders and this is where many of these projects that started out with a lot of enthusiasm fail. In addition, this process does little to produce new products because it takes something that’s there in principle and makes it better. But to come up with ideals that can be the all desired market disruption, you need a different approach. You may not be solving problems or removing pain points.
Innovation through Sensitization
These type of creative breakthroughs are often a side-effect. They happen accidentally, triggered by something seemingly insignificant – but because the individual noticing it is so focused on the problem at hand, they are receptive. We all know this phenomenon. For example, let’s say your best friend bought a new car you were unfamiliar with because it is so rarely driven. But the days after your friend takes you on a ride with the new car, you start seeing it everywhere. Are there suddenly more models around? No. You have simply been made more receptive to seeing it.
The term sensitization comes from the medical and scientific discipline and refers to the fact that repeated stimuli can produce and amplified response. In our Product Design discussion, the repeated stimuli simply refers to the fact that designers (or any other individuals deeply involved with the general topic) are so focused on the general topic and think about the various angles it has every day, that they are sensitized, and begin to see a solution where a non-sensitized person sees only an object at face value. The designers response to the object is amplified. It is different. It is new. And it triggers innovation.
More about Sensitization in UX Design in the next post!