on November 30, 2013

Extending the 4 Walls of Design Thinking

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Over the past decade, design thinking has gained popularity across many businesses as an effective method to generate innovation. Its rise is absolutely with merit. Having worked on innovation initiatives for companies like GE Healthcare, Nike and Procter & Gamble, our teams consistently utilized these principles for predictive, scalable and award-winning results. Its transformational power rests in its simplicity and application for both specific and general problem solving.

So what is design thinking... and how does it work? At its simplest form, design thinking is a series of activities that an individual (or a team) can do for creative problem-solving. The practice merges some common methods from the design, engineering and social science fields used to produce "relevant" solutions. You can think of the activities involved like that of a journalist – going out into the streets, interviewing people of interest, capturing photos and videos, creating drafts of a story, refining with editors and eventually publishing for public consumption. And as a journalist (not unlike many professions), they learn about the best angle to approach a story, what they need to capture and what stories will draw the most public attention.

While most of us can blog (myself included), it doesn't make us a great writer (again, myself included). We might seek out deeper knowledge to hone our craft. The Institute of Design at Stanford, affectionately called the D.School offers a great educational track for those interested in learning more about Design Thinking. This process focuses on mastering 5 main steps facilitators and practitioners can follow to apply to a problem.

These include:

  1. Empathize - immerse yourself in the customer world through observation and engagement
  2. Define - form key insights that identify problems your team can solve
  3. Ideate - explore and capture diverse ideas using inspiration and insights
  4. Prototype - visualize top ideas in a physical form, even if it's only paper
  5. Test - share with customers and iterate to refine

This may not seem terribly complex, but following it is another story. One of the most important, yet often skipped over steps is empathy. Many teams are most comfortable in creating solutions right away. Brainstorming is fun. Doing research? Not so much. Creating empathy exposes our customer's needs and positions them above our own. Often we tend to put ourselves in the problem, creating ideas that we like, not necessarily what's best for the customer. Design thinking forces everyone to capture needs and build relevant solutions that are directly aligned to those needs. Being a part of a team that follows this consistently, establishes a predictable method for new product development, process improvement and many other large business innovation.

While some businesses have formalized a design thinking capability (i.e. P&G Clay Street and Google Ventures), they rely heavily on being "in the room," guiding teams through activities that generate a lot of great knowledge. The physical "room" may limit participants, limit diverse inputs and even limit the time necessary for ideas to evolve. I've often left these sessions drained and thinking our team had great results, only to want to build on them the following day after I had a chance to sleep on it.

To complement and extend design thinking efforts, Batterii's Project Rooms allow our teams to focus on different problems to solve. Teams can access this room pre-meeting, during to capture ideas, and even post-meeting to evolve the solution. While we value in-person collaboration, this allows our teams to extend the 4 walls... literally and figuratively.

As you evolve your company's capabilities, please think about how design thinking and Batterii can be incorporated to solve problems together.