Quite recently, I’ve had an interesting albeit short exchange about why design thinking is the shizz for me. As I’m a bit of a flowery speaker/writer, I knew I wouldn’t have been able to cram my answer into 280 characters, so I wrote this instead, sorry, not sorry!
Well then, why do I think that design thinking is “different, untrivial, and so interesting”?
Reason 1: Empathy
It was such a revelation to me when I finally understood that the approach I was taught and that I was so proud of applying (“oh, I know how you feel”) was actually sympathy, not empathy! This heavy focus on humans, on other people, and on seeing things through their eyes made me realize that it’s a necessary and fundamental element of not only problem solving, but life! If you don’t know what others are going through, how can you even try to help them?
Switching this point of view, learning more about empathy and the feelings of others, makes us more aware of how the world works, how other humans behave, what they want exactly and why they want it. But more importantly, it allows us to understand the underlying reasons for their behaviors and needs. Sometimes we might not be aware of why we feel and want something, and only by this understanding can anyone design anything for anyone. This seed, this level of very often subconscious feeling, is what connects us.
One of my favorite examples of empathy used by design thinking is the Embrace Warmer, a small sleeping bag for newborn babies. It was developed for families in Nepal to make sure that babies born in villages can survive. It was only possible to get rid of false hypotheses by living the life of the people. No, it wasn’t possible to design something from the Silicone Valley offices (and actually, there were previous failed attempts of that sort), but it was only when the designers traveled to Nepal, lived with the families, learned their ways and conditions they were living in. Just then, they were able to figure out what would help the kids. Because they used empathy to feel like Nepalese people, they were able to invent something that catered exactly to their needs.
Reason 2: It’s OK to fail!
One of the fundamental mindsets that design thinking is based on is the understanding of failure. It might not be a shock for some younger audience, but it took a while for me to accept that failure is a part of a natural order of things! I was brought up in a generation (and society) that favored success and pressured kids to achieve it without stumbling along the way. Impossible! Instead of accepting failures and learning from them, I was many times scared to bring a bad grade or even start something fearing it will make me less significant and perfect. Side-note: thanks to my parents, who were logical and loving enough to accept me as I was!
Design thinking makes failure a natural and “obligatory” step in its process, thus creating a welcoming, learning, and creative environment. If you look at my favorite example of re-creating an MRI machine, so it doesn’t scare kids – if it wasn’t for the humility of the designer, him acknowledging his initial failure, him swallowing his pride and saying “I failed, let’s start from scratch”, the Adventure MIR series – a series of MRI machines styled as a jungle, a submarine, a spaceship – wouldn’t be born! Without the initial failure, there would be no MRI that makes kids happy instead of scared.
Reason 3: Courage
Behind all the best ideas are brave people who pushed to make them a reality. Many of them were ridiculed at the very beginning, but they dared to push forward against it. Even though the trend is changing, the differences and quirks that make us who we are, the weird ideas we have are usually used to ridicule or bring someone down. You need to be brave to look past that and believe in yourself.
Another type of courage that design thinking nurtures is the courage to pick yourself up from failure. It takes a lot to accept it; it’s quite hard to admit that it happened and go forward. There is this saying credited to Thomas Edison: “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” and it’s so right. His courage and perseverance to go forward, not look at the mistakes but learn from them, resulted in finally the right invention he had in mind.
Reason 4: Creativity
What design thinking offers for me is the positive approach to craziness. Even if the craziest ideas don’t end up in the final project, the sheer ability to use my imagination and look at solutions through the colorful glass of kaleidoscope powers up the brain. There is no wrong solution, and there is no wrong way of thinking. There is no wrong inspiration source. The freedom to use your senses, to be inspired by your favorite books, movies, other products, people, or stories, or whatever makes you inspired, really, a tree even, is hugely beneficial to the number and quality of solutions.
Creativity results in the plethora of ideas that can kickstart something significant that would’ve not thought of before “because it was weird” or some other crap reason. Design thinking says there is no weird – or whatever is weird is welcomed, haha! There is no “oh, it’s a bad idea,” and that makes you feel like you can contribute.
Reason 5: Mindfulness
Something that makes all the cogwheels of design thinking work in harmony is mindfulness. Being rooted in the way you work, and being aware that you only have influence over certain things and time and place. There is no big jumping the gun (sometimes you have to plan and project, yes, but not to the extent of preparing to the very last detail) and no false expectations. If you are mindful of the way things work and you devote yourself to the current moment, you will use all your energy to help the present cause. There is no “oh but what if” thinking, there is the acceptance of the presence and the recognition that some things will happen regardless.