Why Is Design Thinking Framework So Important?

What is it and why people use it in UI/UX design process???

You’ve probably heard this phrase a lot since the chair of IDEO Design Company, Mr. Tim Brown, published his book in 2009. It became a catchword because it's extremely useful for workgroups and even big corporations. So what is it anyway? Here are a few definitions of design thinking.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”
- Tim Brown

“Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test.”
- https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/design-thinking

Simply, design thinking is a mindset of a process in order to creatively create solutions, new values, and positive impacts. It’s a collaborative approach that revolves around humans for creative problem-solving. Not just design specific, this mindset can be applied in any field.

Big companies use design thinking to make the best decision for their future customers’ demands. So it’s extremely human-centered. Tim Brown’s Change by Design described that design thinking is based on an empathic understanding of the problem that people face. It involves emotions, needs, motivational, and behavioral concepts.

Why so important?

By working with a design thinking framework, you can break down many problems in any complex system of any field. From that, you can ask yourself the big question and start working on how to respond to it. The process itself pushes us to think creatively and critically in order to make innovative solutions.

The reason why design thinking has been implemented in so many projects by so many companies is the main goal of the process. There’re 3 aspects you will look into: Feasibility, Viability, and Desirability. You can consider a solution is good if it covers all of those aspects. Creating a solution that fits in that intersection is the main goal of design thinking.

Solving problems with this framework also unlock your creative potential. Your and your colleagues’ schedule will be flooded by brainstorming sessions to generate as many ideas as you can. In that case, you will be exposed to so many points of view, critics, and feedbacks. It’s a win-win for both you and your team.

How does the process work?

There are 5 phases of design thinking: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. But before we dig down into the process, it’s important for us to know the 4 principles of design thinking:

  1. The Human Rule: Design must be social in nature. It means you must solve problems by acknowledging human elements and satisfy their needs.
  2. The Ambiguity Rule: Ambiguity is inevitable. In that case, do experiments by considering your knowledge limitation so you can still have full control. But that doesn’t mean you don't free yourself to look at things from a different perspective.
  3. All Design is Redesign: We all know that technology and social circumstances are constantly evolving rapidly. But we need to realize that basic human needs don’t because they were met in the past.
  4. The Tangibility Rule: This rule specifically refers to creating prototypes. Prototypes can make your ideas more tangible and facilitate your team communication.

These rules were spelled out by Christoph Meinel and Harry Leifer of the Hasso-Plattner-Institute of Design at Stanford University, California. Now that we know the rules, let’s hop on to the 5 phases. Keep in mind, design thinking is a non-linear process, but most projects are executed in this order:

1. Empathize

As mentioned before, a human-centered mindset helps us to meet our customers’ needs and expectations. That’s why we need to conduct some research and understand our users at the very beginning. It’s a critical phase in the process because we’ll get to know our users better. What troubles them, what moves them, what solutions they need? It’s better for you to set all of your assumptions and just listen to them. Be the big ear.

User interview is the most common approach in this phase because it’s probably easiest to just ask. In fact, you don't need tons of responders. Design thinking recommends quality over quantity in general. So, conduct an interview with fewer responders but select the right people that represent different audiences.

But interviews aren’t the only way. There’s no right or wrong in this process, all methods depend on the nature of the project. Other methods you can use to gain empathy are user-based studies, beginner’s mind approach, or projecting an empathy map.

2. Define

Now that we have our users' insights, it’s time to make sense out of them. The main focus in this phase is to define the problem. Revisit and observe your research then point out: What difficulties and barriers your user found? Is there any pattern in all of the responses? What’s the big problem that your team needs to solve?

Be careful, this phase really shapes your entire project. Defining the problem guides your creative and innovative decisions. It’s like putting a magnet that will be pulling you towards the solution. So take your time, because it’s most worthwhile to take on.

3. Ideate

Here’s the phase that you’ll have to squeeze your brain to let all the creative juice flow. Generate as many ideas as possible, think outside the box, brainstorm like crazy. It’s time to use the quantity over quality motto and sparks tons of ideas. Don’t worry about perfection, feasibility, or viability because all of that is your future-self’s job.

It’s a judge-free zone, so pay close attention and examine every idea with a fresh and open perspective. Don’t reject ideas that seem too simple or too basic. There’re many ways your team can do to spill all of the ideas. Common techniques people use are brainstorming, bodystorming (a type of roleplay scenario), lightning demos, and 4 step sketching.

Pitching ideas can be messy and maybe overwhelming. So by the end of this phase, you’ll have to narrow down the alternatives, leave the best ones to bring forward.

4. Prototype

Leave the messy work behind because now we have to pull the tangled string of ideas and make it more tangible and neat. Remember the intersection in why design thinking is important? Prototyping is like doing an experiment where you want to take your ideas into that sweet spot.

Say a prototype is a scaled-down version of your final solution. Therefore it’s a cheap and simple way to test the solution. Don’t invest too much of your resources in this process, keep it simple. Because this experiment is a tool for you to fail and learn at a fast rate. The outcome of this phase is a rough draft of your solution.

A prototype has various amount of forms, like sketching, rapid prototyping, small model, etc. But for you to get more clarity and be comfortable in the next phase, which is testing, it’s recommended for you to make a high-fidelity (or high-fi, hi-fi) one. This form of prototype is a computer-based interactive representation of your solution. It has the closest resemblance to your final solution in the term of details and functionality.

5. Test

Testing is probably the most straightforward phase. Gather your real users, give them your prototype, let them play with it, and listen to them. Collect feedback as much as you can and as detail as you can. You have to know which solution they love, hate, neglect, etc. It’s better for you not to fell for your solution before testing it. Open your ears and mind, accept their responses.

It may be the last phase, but it is NOT the end of the design thinking process. In reality, testing often brings you back to the previous phases. Your team will get solid ground and more insights for further improvements. The most precious result you can get from testing is knowing how viable your solution is.

Why use design thinking in UI/UX design process?

If you’re interested in UI/UX design, you may wonder why is design thinking seems so destined to be with it? Well, because they complement each other. It’s pretty self-explanatory, UI/UX designers’ job is to make the best interface and experience for their users. That’s why getting to know their users are very crucial and the design thinking framework helps them, a lot.

Simple, no users-designers collaboration = no design thinking process.

References:

  • https://www.workshopper.com/post/guide-to-design-thinking#toc-what-is-design-thinking-
  • https://blog.prototypr.io/design-thinking-not-just-another-buzzword-3075722b51c8
  • https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/what-is-design-thinking-everything-you-need-to-know-to-get-started/
  • https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/design-thinking
  • https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/04/origins-design-thinking/
  • https://blog.prototypr.io/high-fidelity-prototyping-what-when-why-and-how-f5bbde6a7fd4
  • https://www.toptal.com/designers/ux/ux-and-design-thinking