The Design Thinking Approach

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 | President and CEO, IDEO

Today evening, I attended a very inspiring talk titled ‘Trends in Innovation and Knowledge’ delivered by Dr. Raomal Perera, on innovation, creativity, and particularly the design thinking process. It was a short and succint talk touching upon how the economic center of gravity has traversed the globe from past to present, the mechanics of an IDEO team who innovated and  improved the design of a shopping cart, and the design thinking process. This post is mainly about the key takeaway from the session (design thinking), interwoven with a little bit of my own insights, learnings, and musings.

Design thinking, both the philosophy and the process, has a rich history as I found out at this article in medium. It is a human centric problem solving and innovation approach, which is creative, effective, and applicable to many varied fields and industries. During the talk, Dr. Raomal discussed and conveyed the concept that ‘design’ is not a product, or artifact, or aesthetics, nor document/diagram, but a process. This brought to my mind (coming from a software engineering background) a quote from a recent book I read by James Coplien titled ‘Lean Architecture for Agile Software Development’. That particular quote goes as follows (emphasis added by me):

You might ask: Where does (software) architecure start and end? To answer that, we need to answer: What is architecure? Architecture isn’t a sub-process, but a product of a process – a process called design. Design is the act of solving a problem” (Lean Architecture for Agile Software Development, James Coplien – 2010)

To me, many of the ideas in the design thinking process resonates with the idealogy and outlook that James Coplien has towards building really great software systems. His many talks on capturing the human mental model in code, and his formulation of the DCI (Data, Context, and Interaction) architecure, is testament to that opinion. The design thinking process and approach, used correctly, would be a game changer in any industry, domain, field, and academia. More so, in the software services domain, whose core objective could basically be summed up as eradicating end user pain points and enhacing their experience through value addition.

Of course as Dr. Raomal mentioned at the end of his talk, in order for any creativity, innovation, and seeds of design thinking to take root in a company or enterprise, there should be a high level of support and fostering in terms of culture, habitability, and resources (and in this context resources does not always equate to R&D budgets). But done right, the design thinking approach will produce amazing products, services, and systems, that go beyond end users expectations, and solves their problems in some of the most innovative and creative ways possible.

The video at this link  contains a short but informative high level overview on what design thinking is all about. For a short explanation of design thinking process and components, the video here does a great job in my opnion. Finally, for those who want to delve deeper into the design thinking process and related activities, take a look at this Stanford webinar


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