Design thinking: if there’s a more popular term in digital product design right now, you’d be hard-pressed to find it. As a practice, design thinking has become more popular over the past decade than Photoshop alternatives or skeuomorphic design.
So sure, design thinking is a great set of ideas to implement if you’re looking to build the next great app or design the next revolutionary software-as-a-service. But what if you don’t work in product design? Or what if you’re interested in using some of what you love about design thinking in your day-to-day life? Let’s take a look at some of the ways the rest of the world can use design thinking to level up their everyday processes.
Incorporating design thinking into other fields
First of all, it’s important to recognize that the main ideas at the root of design thinking (ideation, empathy, continuous research, etc.) are not foreign to other fields. But wrapping them all up into a process made for divergent and radically productive thinkings isn’t something that may be widely accepted with open minds and arms.
For instance, the healthcare field is one where playing it safe is literally the difference between life and death. Thinking too far outside the box can be dangerous. But incorporating design thinking can be done safely and effectively, even in a high-risk field. Instead of looking at the tools, it pays to look at the service as well.
For example, Kaiser Permanente, working with nurses in patient care, used design thinking to totally revamp the way nurses change shifts. The process reduced errors in the transfer of information, and increased patient confidence, care, and safety.
The social sciences, along with public health and safety, are another field that may not appear to be a strong candidate for design thinking at first glance. But as Tim Brown, one of design thinking’s creators, has said, “We have not traditionally applied design thinking to this set of [social] problems, yet design is a process especially suited to divergent thinking—the exploration of new choices and alternative solutions.”
Like with healthcare, you can view the entire business system, not just products and services, through the lens of design thinking. And what better way to be involved with the people you're helping than to talk to them and learn about what they truly need?
In a similar fashion, design thinking processes can be applied to general business practices as well. Because most companies’ successes are predicated on delivering predictable products by repeatable means, design thinking’s rapid-fire starts and frequent “failures” often mean that executives approach the process with eyebrows raised. Organizations almost instinctively resist bringing fuzzy, messy, and abstract vision into the equation.
But if they do, these forward-thinking businesses create opportunities to buck the status quo, stimulate innovation, and possibly be the creator of the Next Big Thing™. Besides, using design thinking to help drive your organizational strategy and deconstruct business problems in order to gain customer insights ensures that data-driven, real-world decisions override all the Yes Men in your boardrooms. That’s good, right?
How you can use design thinking every day
Design thinking is being used daily for the better in new fields outside of digital product design. If you’re feeling more open-minded about incorporating design thinking into your daily life, take heed of these tips:
- Be observant. Take the time to look at what people really do. Ask good, valuable questions and really listen to the answers. You get the best solutions by looking first-hand at what people do, understanding what they need and are trying to accomplish, and using that knowledge as inspiration for developing new ideas, not just new answers to the same old questions.
- Be creative. Look at what might be and then figure out how to get to it instead of looking at what has been and figuring out how to modify or extrapolate from there. Look at every possible approach and every new way of doing things, even if it means considering something that seems to go against common sense or standard practice. Prototype often, get used to iterating and making small, incremental changes, and get comfortable with failure. It was Thomas Edison that said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
- Be confident. And be optimistic. Don’t get easily discouraged. If you don’t believe that you’ll solve the problem at hand, then you most certainly won’t. Even if you don’t “solve the problem” right away, be on the lookout for what you can learn. Then add that knowledge to your next attempt. Keep moving forward.