When to use Design Thinking and when NOT to?

Right now, you hear about Design Thinking just everywhere! Business magazines such as “The Economist” or “Business Insider” are writing constantly about this state of the art innovation methodology and also at INNOVATION RADICALS we use a lot of Design Thinking in our workshops, projects and daily doing. Viewed from the outside, Design Thinking appears to be the right solution for just everything. But let’s pause here a for second and take a look behind the hype! 

When to use Design Thinking?

1. When facing a complex challenge!

Design Thinking is a great method and mindset when dealing with complex challenges, where we do not fully understand the problem domain nor do we have a good solution at hand. This is why complex problems are ideally tackled using an explorative process such as Design Thinking. Typically, complex problems are strongly connected to human behavior, emotions and habits. They are also connected to high speed of development and change in the world (new technologies, changing cultures, etc.).

However, do not mistake complicated problems for complex ones! A heart surgery for example is a very complicated challenge and you better have a real pro at hand to conduct the operation according to best practices and high standards. Complex challenges work exactly the opposite way! There just isn’t a proven way to solve the issue and get it done. This is why complex challenges are all about designing and conducting experiments, learning from the results and eventually converging towards a suitable solution. In Design Thinking, we do such experiments by designing prototypes in order to test our assumptions with the user group. These experiments are also a good way to make sure that you are really building a solution for the user and not for yourself.

2. When facing a human centered challenge

An integer part of the Design Thinking process is to really understand the human aspects of a challenge and developing ideas based on this understanding. At best, we are able to create a solution that builds on the user’s current behavior, needs, wishes and habits and this way allowing for easy adaptation. 

This focus on the user in Design Thinking is not rocket science and sounds pretty straight forward. However, in many organisations processes, services and products are often being designed without the end-user in mind. A very practical example are hospitals. Here it makes all the difference for both personell and patients if processes and services are designed with a human centered focus.

When NOT to use Design Thinking?

This question is actually quite easy to answer: Do not use Design Thinking in processes that are not open-ended. Design Thinking is an exploratory approach used in the face of a complex challenge where the problem behind the problem isn’t really understand and a convincing solution isn’t obvious. This setting mandates an open-ended process! When starting a Design Thinking process you usually have a pretty good idea of the process steps and useful methods to tackle the challenge. However, the final outcome of this process or important key-insights that might to be found along the way cannot be predicted. This is why Design Thinking is hostile territory for everyone who wants to plan for specific results in advance. Traditional strategy or management consultancies for example have the tendency to meticulously prepare and script stakeholder-workshops aiming to steer towards a desired outcome. Design Thinking does not work this way.

Source: Sebastian Kummetz Brunetto

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