At its simplest, it is defined as something new – an idea, a product enhancement, or perhaps a new method. It can also refer to solutions that meet new needs. It differs from invention in a small but still recognizable way: the car was an invention; a driverless car is an innovation.
When we think of design, we often think of artists – people who design websites, logos, etc. or who craft new exterior and interior designs of cars, homes, and such. We consider these people “creatives.” And, yes, they are. But they are also problem solvers.
Consider this: a design thinker either defines a problem or is given a problem to solve. S/he may do some research, will then brainstorm any number of potential solutions, and finally design the solution that appears to be the best. That solution is then implemented and its suitability tested.
Often, design thinking involves a team – this results in more potential solutions being proposed and considered.
Whether design thinking occurs by an individual or a team, though, it has common elements – creativity, imagination, intuition, out-of-the-box thinking, and a focus on who will use the solution in the end.
Design Thinking and Innovation – it’s a Match
Consider the enterprise we know as Apple. It is a design-led company. It didn’t invent the telephone. But design-thinking completely changed the way we use phones. And that thinking crosses over all industries, whether they offer products or services. It is the ability to put “wow” into those products or services that attracts customers and makes a company successful.
Rachel Thompson from Is Accurate, a translation services review agency, offers this: “Design thinking has resulted in big innovations for the translation industry. Solutions based on AI and machine learning have brought the unfeasible to reality.”
The Framework of Design Thinking
It all begins with the realization that there is a “gap,” or unmet needs on the part of customers. And thus, begins the design thinking process.
- Observe and research to discover unmet needs, even those that may not be clearly articulated by your customers. Questions like, “What can we do that would improve their lives in some way?” are the beginning of design thinking.
- Then comes the brainstorming. The more people involved, even customers, the better. There are no boundaries here – this is the phase when everything is put on the table, no matter how unfeasible it may seem. Remember, a decade ago, who would have thought that Siri could engage in natural language processing to conduct research and answer questions of its users? And who would have thought that Taco Bell would have a chatbot who could take food orders and make recommendations for additional menu items? Or who would have thought that consumers could access an eyeglasses retailer and actually try on frames in the comfort of their homes?
- All options are on the table for discussion of feasibility. And, ultimately, a solution or more is selected.
- A prototype is then designed. Whether that is a software product, a new bank loan product, a new car design or, in the case of Nike, a new shoe innovation, that prototype will be readied for real-world testing.
- The prototype is then tested on a real-world population to determine its usefulness, value, and popularity.
- Based upon feedback, modifications are then made, until the product or service is the perfect match for the population it is meant to serve.
Design Thinking Across All Industries
It’s easy to see the results of design thinking in the innovations that come from companies such as Apple. But design thinking must go well beyond just technology-related enterprises. It must go to the heart of how humans think in all organizations and institutions.
One institution that must promote design thinking is education. For too long, we have allowed our traditional concepts of education to drive what we do with students in the classroom. We teach “stuff” instead of creative and critical thought processes. Gil Beckham, editor for the academic writing service, Essay Supply, recently said, “When we supply academic writing help to students at all levels, we continue to be disappointed by the lack of demand for essays, projects, and papers that require critical and creative thought. It’s time for a shift in focus in our schools.”
Fortunately, a shift is gradually occurring, as schools begin to embrace design thinking. Sometimes, this also comes from outside of the four walls of an institution. Consider, for example the annual LEGO competition that has increasingly captured the attention of schools. Every year, participating student teams take on a real-world problem such as energy, environmental sustainability, food and water safety, etc. and develop a solution. Then they are required to build a robot through LEGO Mindstorms. The result is that they work as a team to engage in design thinking and produce real-world applications of that thinking.
This is the training in STEM innovation that society needs as it moves forward and as students move into careers that will demand it. Susan McDonnell, consultant with Resumes Centre, puts it very bluntly: “The demand for those who have not just degrees in STEM areas but who also have the ability to think outside of the box in areas of problem-solving is already here. And it will continue to grow. Face it. We live in an age where innovation is what matters to employers.”
The Bottom Line
You don’t have to be a designer. But you do need to think like one. Carl Sherman, editor for the writing service review agency, Rated by Students, recently stated, “We are seeing an increasing demand for help with projects that involve problem-solving, and those agencies that have design thinkers on their writing staffs will be the ones getting the high marks from student consumers.”
His thoughts are echoed by Linda Castello, evaluator of academic and business writing services for Top Writers Review: “Problem-solving is becoming the ‘new normal,’ both in education and in business. As we look toward the future of the writing industry, those agencies that have design thinkers to work in collaboration with their clients will clearly have the competitive advantage.”
The wave of the future is design thinking. As demands for innovations to solve customer and societal problems and provide for improved lifestyles increase, the innovators will command the future.
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