Sunday, 26 June 2011

Design Thinking

We had the pleasure to attend a session on "Design Thinking – Looking beyond the obvious and crafting a vision for the future" by Prof. Ulrich Weinberg, who is the Head of “School of Design Thinking” at Hasso Plattner Institute, Potsdam, Germany since 2007.

First, I will note down some key points from his session on Design Thinking and then I will put in my opinions & thoughts. 

Key points from the session:

Sustainable Innovation




  • For a sustainable innovation the process has to start with human needs. When the human needs are understood, then one has to understand how technology can support those human needs. And finally, one has to build the business case.
  • Key requirement of Design Thinking is a multi-disciplinary team. This team has to work on an iterative process in an appropriate environment. The appropriate environment for design thinking is a variable space as will be discussed subsequently.
  • Multi-disciplinary team is very important and every individual has to understand and rely on the power of team.
  • Our education systems have corrupted us in thinking only about ourselves. It has made us increasingly individualistic. But, for Design Thinking to succeed we have to think of our collective success rather than individual achievements. 
  • Iterative Process

  • In the iterative process, it is necessary that no one thinks about the solution in the first 3 steps. The first 3 steps are to:
    • Understand the problem
    • Observe the users and the problems in depth
    • Build a point of view about the users and the problems
  • Only, after building a point of view should the team move on to Ideation phase that is like a brainstorming session. The objective is to come out with as many solutions possible. "One has to build quantity before quality."
  • Iteration of the whole process is important for the success. Usually, the first prototype is only 60-70% successful after testing. And every iteration refines the solution further.
  • Many team members of the mulit-disciplinary team come from a non-creative backgrounds. Everyone has to understand that creativity is in-built in everyone. What is important is to "reactivate the skills" and bring back "creativity from kindergarten
    • This is also known as building up of Creative Confidence.
  • "Failing early and often" is a lesson not just for the failing student but for the team and other observants as well. 
  • How to create a flexible working environment
    • Lots of white boards should be placed. Enough for everyone to play with.
    • Movable furniture
    • Standing positions for team members has been found to be better suited for such process. It was observed that individuals were more active participants when standing compared to sitting. 
    • Information environment - An environment where information flow is very easy.
  • What sort of individuals are best suited for Design Thinking process?
    • T shaped people: Individuals who are good in the filed they are in, but are equally capable of appreciating and understanding other fields and people from other domains.
  • How has digital media helped?
    • Design Thinking would not have been possible without the advent of Digital Media. Collecting ideas very rapidly has been possible using this media.
My thoughts & opinions:
  • Building multi-disciplinary teams is very important for Design Thinking. But, for most of the businesses this is the hardest part. All said and done, bringing together such a team would be hard for smaller businesses or in fact for anyone except some academic institutions.
  • Multi-disciplinary team formulation does not take care of cultural sensitivities.
    • How can one solve a problem in India sitting in other parts of the world, by building a team of people who have never been to or lived in India?
  • Sustainable innovation also leaves aside the culture and society.
    • A solution may be good for user needs, technologically feasible and with a good business case, but society may see it as a threat or the solution may be culturally unacceptable. So, it should be (User Needs + Cultural impact + Societal Values)
  • Physical environment seems to be a key component of the whole process. With decreasing interactions in real world and increased interactions in virtual world, it is not clear how to build an appropriate environment in virtual world.
    • In one of our projects where we are applying Design Thinking, half the team members sit in US and half are in India. It is a real challenge to create a suitable environment on digital world. 

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