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4 Steps of Design Thinking

Design Thinking

May 6, 2020

When I was a kid, I used to take things apart to see how they worked. It was always fascinating to me to see how the parts went together, how the space was organized inside whatever device I happened to be looking at or the mix of electronics and plastic — what the purpose of each piece was. It was also fascinating to discover how the parts went back together, assessing the need and the role each one played in making the finished device work.

Sometimes taking things apart, even when you understand the ultimate purpose it serves, affords the opportunity for a more detailed conversation, one that leads to different types of discovery and a deeper understanding of the organization or effort in question.

The Process of Design Thinking

Design thinking is a process by which ideas, structures, systems or processes are pulled apart and put back together. There are generally two cycles of divergence and convergence that are designed to analyze and synthesize a result. The combinations of how you can approach this are almost infinite, and that is purposeful, but the basic steps in its use are fairly standard. This is because in order to analyze something that is very broad or complex, putting a frame in place creates an opportunity for order or linear analysis.

Step 1: Discovery

The first step in the process is that of discovery. What problem do you feel you are trying to solve? What approach will you use? How will you collect data and gain a better understanding of what is facing you? This can be done in various ways, but the essence of this step is collecting data, information, insights and perspectives to be used in different ways in the subsequent steps.

Step 2: Process the Data

Next, look at what you have learned. How do I process the stories, data points, fact patterns, interrelationships and statistical data into something I can use? What are the criteria I will use to evaluate these bits of information? Interpretation of what you have collected is a crucial part of being able to take the next step in the process. You are in a state of convergence, based on the divergent data you collected in the first step.

Step 3: Generate Ideas

Continuing on, it’s time to generate some ideas. What are some solutions to what I set out to do? This is where you brainstorm ideas, group thoughts and storyboard concepts. You’re converting what you have learned in a directed and specific way, based on the information you have so far. What is the data telling you? You’re back in divergence, pulling things apart and grouping them, looking at the parts of what you have learned and determining how they might be used in the next step.

Prototyping ideas is where you have moved into the actual creation of solutions. How do I build out what I need to reach my goal, desired outcome or ideal end state? How do I leverage what I have learned, how I have interpreted it and determine from what groups of data I will create a series of alternatives to address the initial goal? Or have I determined that the initial goal needs to shift and adapt based on what I have learned? You will find that is often the case. You’re in the final stretch of convergence now, as the possible permutations start to move toward a few well-defined outcomes.

Step 4: Test Solutions

The last step is rooted in learning from testing different types of implementation or taking the solutions you have developed and evaluating them for viability. Does the machine you are putting back together still work? Does it work better? Do you need all of the parts you started with? Do you understand what has changed? Reflecting on my own beginning, if the machines I was taking apart as a child did not fit back together or work in their rebuilt form, that indicated to me that I had more work to do. But by taking them apart and trying to determine what each part did by putting them back together (most of the time a few times), I learned a lot about each device and the components that made them work.

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Joe Benesh

Joe Benesh is the President and CEO of The Ingenuity Company, located in Des Moines. The Ingenuity Company specializes in Strategic Planning, Diagramming, Organizational Design Thinking, and Leadership/Change Facilitation. He also teaches strategic planning at the University of Iowa in the MBA Program.