6 simple design thinking techniques for busy people

Published on January 19th, 2019

CJ Chetwynd
Creative Director

A lot has been written about design thinking, the current ‘go-to’ set of tools for innovation. But for the uninitiated (or maybe just the super busy) it can be overwhelming trying to understand and implement new ways of doing things. So how do you get your head around what design thinking is and get a better feel for the value it could add to your business or organization?

The good news is, if you are an intuitive leader, you are probably already utilizing a range of techniques used in design thinking – but before we start, lets define what it is. The Interaction Design Foundation describes design thinking as a methodology that provides an innovative solution based approach to solving problems. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO adds that design thinking also integrates the needs of people, technological possibilities and requirements for business success. So effectively, its a way of differentiating your service, products and relationships, by gearing them towards the customer – a critical advantage for any business offering a product or service not particularly distinct from their competitors. So – where do you start? Great design thinking starts with the mind and can then be practiced with methods and tools, so here are some pragmatic design thinking tips from the field to start your design thinking journey.

Check your mindsetHarvard research found that people have two types of thinking.

FIXED – where interests are inherent in a person and

GROWTH – where interests can be developed and grow over time.

Those with growth mindsets were more curious than those with fixed mindsets. Having a growth mindset and being curious will help you charter the unknown and connect to problems rather than jumping to the solutions as we so often do. Effectively, you need to leave space for greater exploration. Tim Brown, IDEO

Create psychological safety – Google led a two-year research project with 280 teams. They found only one distinction between innovative and non-innovative teams—psychological safety. A team that has psychological safety is a team, usually built on diversity, where people openly communicate (including their mistakes), feel safe trying new things, openly share ideas, and bring their full selves to work. Trust is critical to psychological safety. How you behave will build or destroy psychological safety – so, employ your growth mindset and celebrate failure as part of your success and you will grow curiosity and empathy, key attributes of a design thinker.

Connect with empathy – We all know what empathy is, but why does it relate to great design thinking? By putting aside our own individual and pre-conceived ideas and engaging in the ideas, thoughts and needs of others, you gain a ‘deep understanding of the problems and realities of the people you are designing for’ IDEO. Solutions without empathy can often fail because you may only be designing for wants rather than needs, which can be unexpressed. So, what are some great ways to connect with empathy? Personas, Empathy Mapping, Journey Mapping are three great techniques to get you started. The 5 Whys technique can help you make sure you are targeting the right human problems. No matter which techniques you use, you are ultimately trying to develop your understanding around the wants, the expressed and unexpressed needs, pain points and satisfiers of your customers and services.

PrototypePrototyping is a great way to see if your ideas have legs. It requires a curious, open mindset and empathy. It can be as technical as IT solutions or 3d printing or as simple as a role play or good old paper and pens. Whatever the case, prototyping is about learning, not perfection…..here’s where failure and psychological safety kick in! IDEO recommend starting small with a question and hypothesis. Then build your rough prototype. Once built, expose it to as many customers as possible and be willing to listen to feedback. ‘Test; learn; modify’ is the working mantra we use with customers every day. If you fail fast, you will have succeeded, because you’ll learn fast! Most importantly, just start! Momentum and prolific ideas are your friends. Use any rough method you need to test your idea. For example, we once built a prototype app for a customer where we printed an iPhone on paper & cut out the screen. By drawing out functions and screens on paper as the conversation flowed then sliding them in behind the cut out phone, we were able to rapidly test screen functions and capture considerations, issues and new ideas.

Iterate – We’ve all heard the saying practice makes perfect. But perfect is super hard, and almost in-measurable. Instead, what if we stopped seeking perfection and starting seeking ‘better – more often’. We would bite off less and be able to dedicate our scarce resources to the priorities. Iteration helps us test, learn and modify at pace – effectively, doing better, more often. It also has the side benefit of increasing psychological safety, because the errors that are made are usually smaller and the fixes can happen faster. As you and the team validate your ideas along the way, they’ll take more risks, innovate and recover from failure much faster than before.

Embrace ambiguity – At times, design thinking can give you the sense you are chasing rabbits. I’ve even found myself wondering exactly how much value am I creating with some activities at times. But design thinking processes and tools have a way of diverging and converging, and that’s exactly what they are designed to do. Divergence activities allow you to consider and embrace many ideas, and convergence activity allows you to hone down on the best ideas in detail. What ever the path, the insights that fall out have a way of connecting over time – so embrace a little ambiguity, ‘give yourself permission to explore lots of different possibilities so the right answer can reveal itself’. Patrice Martin. Not knowing the answer opens a world of possibilities to design and innovate. So……what are you waiting for?


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