What I’ve learned from the Design Thinking approach

When I had my first working experience with Design Thinking, I was part of an heterogenueous team composed by designers, philosophers, artists, ethnography researchers and programmers working in Germany. What I’ve learn that time is now part of my “design bible” (it’s actually the first chapter) that I always try to remember and apply.

But first of all, what it’s Design Thinking?
This video is from a project that IDEO did in 1998 (yes, 16 years ago!!) redesigning a shopping cart. To me, this video sum up every little aspect that constitutes Design Thinking.
First, no doubt, to make projects with people, not simply for people (and that’s clearly shown in the video). 
Second, Design Thinking is for everyone and everyone can be a designer (of course, the word “designer” shouldn’t be misunderstood: it’s not about fancy furniture, artistic creations or the ability of making good drawing). We all design and create everyday, all day, starting from palling our days, our hairstyle, the way we dress up, what we cook and how we cook it, the words we use and how we behave. So we all are inherently creative and are able to response and react to our daily life problems, to adapt to reality by thinking about different solutions that can match our needs, based on our resources and skills.
In other words, Design Thinking is:

  • a method to identify problems and latent needs;
  • a way to frame and define these problems and needs addressing
  • a way to cope with these problems, solve them and find  usable, desirable and feasible solutions
  • it puts everyone in the position to have the necessary confidence in their creative skills and strategic

It must be said that Design Thinking is not just a methodology to create new and relevant solutions with a positive impact on the status quo but also an attitude: you believe in the possibility of making a difference, it is a positive and proactive in addressing your challenges and expectations, it is to be convinced that you can create a real change, regardless the problem of budget or feasibility of the possible solutions.
Third, participation is vital if not essential at all stages of the project, starting from the deep empathy and understanding of the needs, desires and motivations of the people involved: companies, associations, local administrators or ordinary citizens. From the first research phase, stakeholders are involved in the development of the project, they are constantly and actively involved in the design choices. More minds together are of course getting stronger in analyzing and solving a problem compare to one single mind: the advantage of the mix of different perspectives and creative approaches that can reinforce each other is extraordinary.
Everyone is a important piece of the puzzle. Addressing the problem with the beginners mentality is quite essential, even if maybe the project is run with industry experts and professionals. Facilitate curiosity, the willingness to listen, to be taught by others, the willingness to experiment and to always question the situation are all attitudes that facilitate the creativity process. Of course, this is not easy at all. The most difficult thing? To be ready to not always have the right answer at the right time, but have faith in the creative process (and the team members) even in the phase of uncertainty and chaos.
One of the basic concepts of Design Thinking is about developing a deep connection between people involved in the project by sharing conversations, observations and personal experiences. Bring together different people, with different backgrounds and interests, make them talk and discuss on which tricks they are used to use, which mistakes they normally made, how they live, what goals they have, etc … has a strong impact on both the project on the community of stakeholders.
Combine various stakeholders, create a group among them and stimulate a community feeling is what can make a difference raises new conversations and the awareness that together we can solve problems, build and generate new skills, create new knowledge.
Last but not least, Design Thinking is based on the idea of “learning by doing”: before getting to the final solution, several possibilities are designed, prototypes and tested, each time by collecting feedback and suggestions from all stakeholders involved in the process; there are never any definitive solutions or safe but still a “work in progress”, an (never-ending?) ongoing process.