Turning Design Thinking to Design Doing

Design thinking can be a powerful approach that helps organizations break through their limiting assumptions of what’s possible. It creates deep empathy and gets us out of the abstract debate over ideas in meeting rooms, to a place where we can collaboratively create and test tangible concepts. The theory is great, but implementation is often difficult. Why is that?

There are already good learning materials available online, including the The Stanford d.School Bootcamp Bootleg and the HCD Toolkit. So what makes it tricky to learn and teach design thinking in a way that helps people embrace it more fully? These current materials might provide some sense of security and help, but are toolkits and workbooks enough?

Written materials alone cannot capture all the nuances of design thinking because the approach involves a structured approach with a lot of unstructured elements. Design thinking, like jazz, requires an appreciation for improvisation; learning how to apply it is an experiential and social activity.

As an example, building a prototype highlights some of the challenges of getting people to actually do design thinking. A prototype is a simple simulation of the experience of a new product or service—a simulation that a user can interact with. It is often quick and dirty, and it makes an idea tangible and real. Prototyping helps you surface questions about the desirability, usability, and feasibility of your idea. Iteratively making and testing a series of prototypes can help you gain a deeper understanding of your users and help you refine your solutions.

But often, people experiencing this process for the first time must get over the fear of not being creative. Once they started to work experientially and socially, and as their creative confidence grew, they are usually able to start applying prototyping to their own design challenges, ones they face in their day-to-day work.

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