Design is omnipresent and can be experienced in each and every aspect of Nature. The wings of a butterfly, the aerodynamic body of a cheetah, or the tusks of a deer, nature expresses itself rather mysteriously through intrinsic designs. Did nature create perfect designs from the get-go? According to me, the design is an evolving process, either through natural progression or through human intervention and since humans are also part of nature, it becomes the same thing.
So Design Thinking, in essence, is using this kind of thinking in everything you create and could also include “Designing”; you could apply the principles of design thinking to an automobile manufacturing plant or to a local tea store, it really doesn’t matter! In fact, the reason this method is called Design Thinking is that the methodology was initially applied by ‘Designers’ and people around started realizing that they were coming up with brilliant solutions to challenges or requirements given to them, the methodology they used, evolved into the structured approach we call Design thinking today.
Essentially the Design Thinking process can be largely divided into 4 main stages
People Orientation – You really understand what people are going through before you even begin thinking about solutions
Problem Definition- You understand what is the exact cause of whatever it is that the people mentioned above are going through
Solution Generation- You identify what is the “best” way to solve this problem. “Best” can mean different things and is purely contextual
Concept Consolidation – Plan for the next course of action
Academicians would argue that you would also need to add the stages of ‘Prototyping’ or ‘Testing’ to these phases. But these stages require entirely different skill sets and there is real money involved in creating some of these prototypes. In fact, there is an element of ‘Prototyping’ in the fourth stage of Concept Consolidation. But here, you are really not worried about how close you are to commercializing your solution and you basically want to understand how a user works with a physical concept of your solution so that you are at least aware that you are moving in the right direction with respect to helping the people you want to help.
Every product that has ever been designed or redesigned was done with the intention of serving and adapting to all possible needs of the people using it, so there is always a transformational process associated with every product which in business terms is called the S-curve. Every product starts at the base of the S-curve where only the ‘early adopters’ or the people who are really interested in the problem you are trying to solve are using your product. Then as more and more early adopters start using it, the product reaches a point in the S-curve called the ‘Tipping Point’ after which it's smooth sailing for some time since more people start buying the product with little effort from the people who created it. But then the product moves into the final phase of the S-curve where people have lost interest over the function of the product and starts desiring aesthetic appeal and greater user experience until a new product with a better technology creates a new S-curve, borrowing some of the features of the older product and the cycle begins all over again.
Where does Design Thinking feature in all this? Well, the aim of organizations who want to stay profitable and continue building products people use would then be not to waste resources creating products no one wants and always stay ahead of the S-curve! Design Thinking creates a roadmap for people who want to solve problems but also ensure that the solutions conform to business viability and it all starts with the first step in the process: ‘ A problem well stated is half solved.” That means if we have well-defined problems, they are great precursors to these revenue-generating ideas.
Find out what your customers need by observing them so that you may truly define the problem you are trying to address, make notes while observing your customers, and draw insights based on your observations. You can now start generating ideas, follow this by taking up some of these promising ideas and start prototyping, making mockups; even basic paper and sketches would do. Give your prototype to customers and then make notes of how these customers are using it and how they like it. Finally, refine based on your observations, repeat, observe and ideate; prototype and test until you are satisfied with your solution.
Nithin Kurian is an innovator and Design Thinker with experience in operations, customer success, and consultancy in the Education and Information Technology sector, having worked in both corporate and startup environments. He envisages the growth of Ed-Tech ecosystems using human-centered design and the efficient use of technology.
Scottish Qualifications Authority, UK
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