How to solve problems by design

Photo credit - Aaron Burden via

Photo credit – Aaron Burden via

A friend recently told me about his daughter building up her own consulting business in design thinking. It got me wondering, what is design thinking? It’s a methodology for problem-solving. So what? Well, it could help you to achieve extraordinary results in what you do. Interested? 

Design in its most effective form is a process, an action, a verb not a noun. A protocol for solving problems and discovering new opportunities.
~ Fast Company – Design Thinking … What is that?

Design thinking has four key elements

  1. Define the problem
  2. Create and consider options
  3. Refine selected directions
  4. Pick the winner, execute

1. Define the problem
It sounds obvious, but it is not always. Question the problem to be solved. The way the problem is presented may present problems in itself. It depends on the way it is framed, and the filters the affect the way the problem solvers perceive it.

The emphasis is on observation. Focus on what is happening versus what we are told is happening? It requires constant questioning, probing and enquiry. This means suspending judgement while the issues to be explored are distilled.

Framing is important. Is the problem “design a chair”,  or “create a way to suspend a person”? Framing changes the way you think about the problem. So the definition stage targets the problem to solve, and then to frame it in a way that invites creative solutions.

2. Create and consider options
Generate options that reflect different perspectives. Generate many. To benefit from design thinking means exploring both the usual and not-so-usual options. It is easy to be caught in a trap of thinking patterns. Ensuring a focus on diverse perspectives helps avoid this.

The key here is to consider multiple perspectives. Perspective taking enables different viewpoints to be considered. Having a team working on solving a problem rather than on your own, is another way to increase the perspectives.

3. Refine selected options
Ideas need to to be explored and nurtured to get them past their early stages in order for them to be appreciated more fully. One of the principles underpinning Design Thinking, is that it requires an environment that encourages growth and experimentation. As such, making mistakes is seen as a valid part of the process of finding and investigating suitable ways of getting results. It may be that options are combined or integrated to make it through the selection process.

Repetition is important. Steps 2 and 3 are repeated until suitable results are revealed.

4. Pick the winner, execute
When the best solution is chosen, investigations are not over. Resources are needed to put the solution into action to achieve the desired outcome. That involves designing the solution and testing. Other ideas and strategies that enhance the final solution can emerge during these processes.

Design thinking describes a repeatable process employing unique and creative techniques which yield guaranteed results — usually results that exceed initial expectations
~ Fast Company, Design Thinking – What is that?

The steps outlined above do not offer a new methodology. It is a logical sequence of processes that are easily followed and applied. But do we do this, routinely? Probably not. So the effect is a systematic application of the method. That means going through the steps without being invested in a particular outcome. Instead being open-minded and looking to see what emerges, by following the guidelines.

Applied in group problem-solving situations, this approach can give unexpected outcomes when differing perspectives come together. The commitment of time and space to this process is needed to be able to realise the potential opportunities that may be revealed.

It makes me wonder if these processes, might be usefully applied in generating more creative solutions within government political arenas.

Source: Design Thinking – What is that? Fast Company

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