But we also need an approach to help us synthesize, innovate and create. The practice of design thinking seems to be sorely missing from instructional design university programs, professional training and workplace practices.
A Design Thinking Process
As you would expect, there are many variations to the design thinking model. Generally, there are between three and six steps.
RESEARCH Research helps you define the problem and get to know the target population. Research creates a more open mindset than Analysis, where the focus is on breaking things down and finding answers. In design thinking, research is practiced through empathizing with the target population.
Some ways to research a problem include:
- Field Research:
- Attitude Research: run focus groups to find out what motivates the audience and what demotivates them.
- What’s Out There: research existing solutions to similar problems
- Mind Maps: Mind maps, which are radiant drawings showing connected ideas, are good for exploring many aspects to a problem.
Without correctly defining a problem, it’s nearly impossible to generate a corresponding solution.
IDEATE The practice of conceiving ideas, or ideation, is a critical step of design thinkingSome ways to generate possible solutions include:
- Sketching: For many people, sketching short-circuits the judgement side of the brain and helps them tap into a flow of ideas. Sketching is visual brainstorming. Using stick figures and geometric shapes is completely acceptable and gets the job done. Sketching is exploration.
- Manipulative Verbs: From the creator of brainstorming, Alex Osborn, comes an exercise using a list of action verbs that are applied to various ideas or problems.
PROTOTYPE A prototype is a preliminary model of an approach. Prototyping involves hands-on exploration. It provides a way to rapidly try out ideas without a large investment of time and money. In learning experience design, a prototype could involve storyboarding an interaction. Some ways to prototype or to create form include:
- Sketching: Using pencil and paper or a digital drawing tool, prototype sketches are more involved than in the previous phase. They might include storyboarding a scenario or visualizing all possible responses to an interaction.
- Mock-ups: A mock-up is a simulated version of an idea, that replicates how it will look and behave. These can range from a Styrofoam model to a working user interface.
- Small Implementation:
TEST Testing is all about seeing what works in the real world, getting feedback and refining (or ditching) prototypes. You can see how design thinking is an iterative process that involves lots of testing and modification.
Design thinking isn’t a silver bullet, but it’s one model for dealing with the “be creative on demand” requirements in our line of work. And it might provide important solutions for the learning problems of the 21st Century.