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Why design thinking is more than what you think it is

“Design Thinking is just a fad.” “We think we know what it means, but it sounds good so let’s use it.”


According to IDEO, the organisation known for popularising Design Thinking, “there is no single definition for Design Thinking.” We stand by this definition and hence, would like to call out the core elements of Design Thinking that we truly believe in when solving problems be it big or small.


Before you think that this isn’t for you and close the tab, re-consider that thought again. One of Design Thinking’s core principles is to ‘Defer Judgement’ - you won’t know what you don’t know until you have listened, read and felt.


Now, what are the top 3 Design Thinking principles that we believe and have adopted here at Innothink Advisory?


1. Always start with and circle back to who you are solving the problem for


This human-centered approach emphasises the importance of observing and listening with empathy. It is about asking the right questions and providing a safe space for the end user to share their true emotions and feelings. This will enable us to draw out the most insightful details and pain points.


Conducting interviews is usually done best in the natural environment of the end user, as you are able to take note of any actions and expressions. This enriches your findings as you probe into the real problems that frustrate the user. Observations are also a good way of undergoing empathy research as you refrain from causing any obstructions to the user.


Remember to keep the end user(s) engaged as you progress to design and build the product or service for them, constantly testing any product or service interactions with them and obtaining feedback!


2. Building a culture of idea meritocracy


It is common to think that you have used Design Thinking if you have used a couple of coloured post-its in your team meetings. This is the last and most shameful assumption that one can make about Design Thinking. Design Thinking is not about the sticking and shuffling of post-its on a big white board of your meeting room.


Yes, post-its are generally used in Design Thinking for ideation or brainstorming. However, there is a process and method that Design Thinking enforces while you are holding a stack of post-its.

  • Each person should have a couple of post-its and a pen in their hands.

  • Everyone should stand in a circular or any other shape formation around the board where the post-its would go on.

  • During the few minutes of ideation, each person should be jotting down (either in writings or drawings!) their ideas in silence, and stick up their post-its as they go.

  • As each person is putting up their post-its on the board, they should be looking at what ideas have been put up by others, and try to stick their post-its of similar ideas together.

You may ask why the need for these ‘rules’? This process, if followed correctly, helps to break down any sense of team hierarchy and differences in personalities in the group. A post-it gives each person a voice to share their ideas. It wouldn’t be the case where the loud voices dominate the discussions.


The term ‘idea meritocracy’ is borrowed from Ray Dalio (known for key principles applied in his life and company). In Dalio’s company Bridgewater Associates, meetings are held in unconventional ways. Each person would use the Dot app to vote on what they thought of another person’s comment or opinion, which would then produce results of how many agreed or disagreed for example. These results are also weighted based on each voter’s credibility in the company (through work experience, years at firm, performance, etc.). We think that the use of post-its in Design Thinking embodies this concept of ‘idea meritocracy’ similarly.


3. Let’s stretch our minds and then decide what to do


Design Thinking practices the concept of divergent and convergent thinking. We should open our minds to as many ideas first, going for quantity in the initial stages. This is where radical ideas form as there is acceptance for a growing number of ideas in this space. Methods such as Creative Matrix or Crazy 8s help to generate as many different ideas as possible in a limited time frame.


Once the group is comfortable with the pool of ideas generated, it’s time to narrow down on what will be taken forward. Methods such as clustering similar ideas together, drawing out similar themes and voting help with this. The top chosen ideas can be taken forward into prototyping using methods such as Concept Poster or online tools like Proto.io.


We could go on and on with the other Design Thinking principles we advocate, but we will leave it here today. We hope you have learned a bit more about Design Thinking and feel free to check out the links to items that have been mentioned above.


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