Learning To Appreciate The Design Thinking Process

One of the degrees I'm pursuing right now is MS in Design Innovation (the other being MBA from Kellogg School of Management), and one of the key goals for this program is to immerse the students in the design thinking process (if interested, you can read more about it here).

You might argue that I must have been interested in learning about the design thinking if I chose to pursue this program. The truth is that I was actually fairly skeptical about the entire concept. While I liked the idea of learning about using a holistic approach when it comes to innovation, and appreciated the importance of human-centered design at a high level, I wasn't necessarily convinced of the value of specific processes and frameworks associated with the design thinking. I generally tend to question any kind of process that you are asked to just blindly follow, plus it didn't seem plausible that any kind of "creative" thinking could be done by following on a specific set of guidelines.

Suffice to say, my opinion has changed a lot since then. After applying the design thinking principles to the challenges posed by Harley-Davidson and McDonalds on multiple occasions, I can safely say that while the design thinking process might not be entirely perfect, it sure does help to evaluate the situation at hand, tackle complex problems, and then guide the search for appropriate solutions. And, funnily enough, it's the structure of this approach that I appreciate the most now.

Take, for example, the step when you are being asked to come up with the insights and so called 'How Might We?'s based on your initial primary research results. Truth be told, at first, I was fairly frustrated with the entire idea. Why do we need to do it this way? What's the value of coming up with those (rather generic) insights? How does putting every problem assessment in the rigid 'How Might We' structure going to help us? And why the hell aren't you allowed to criticize the ideas the others came up with?

Well, turns out all of that was for a reason. Coming up with the insights and HMWs helps to distill the key points uncovered by your research. Putting everything in the same format helps to be able to assess the ideas more easily. And building off the others' ideas instead of arguing about their viability helps to ensure that everyone on the team feels comfortable to share, and as a result allows you to capture the entire breadth of the insights.

There are two takeaways here, as I see it. First, while the healthy skepticism about the processes being pushed on you might be a good thing, it's also worth looking into the underlying reasons for those principles to exist in the first place: one might find that the approach in question is actually more than reasonable. Second, even when feeling uncomfortable about a particular routine, it often makes sense to go with it a couple of times to see what results it would yield: you might be surprised by how effective it turns out to be. While those insights might look obvious, they certainly weren't for me (and, I suspect, wouldn't necessarily have been for others as well).