Everyday Design Thinking

by Alysha Lach-White, Illustrator / Experience Designer

Have you ever found yourself sitting in front of a blank piece of paper, wondering where all of your brilliant ideas are hiding and why they aren’t flowing out of you? This is a situation professional creatives often find themselves in, and there is a simple solution to get those wheels turning: design thinking. Instead of asking yourself WHAT you are going to do, ask WHY and FOR WHO. This simple shift in purpose has aided designers in producing groundbreaking work and can help you tackle problems in your daily life.

What is design thinking? In recent years, Stanford University collaborated with Tim Brown and David Kelley of IDEO, a design company that for decades has impacted the industry with innovative, human-centered solutions. The partnership led to the creation of the Stanford d.school design thinking methodology that is being replicated all over the world and has revolutionized businesses like Airbnb, Toshiba and many others.

The Stanford and IDEO model of problem-solving works like this:

  • Empathize with the people (the users) you are solving a problem for on an intimate level.

  • Define the main problem based on listening to who you empathized with.

  • Ideate any and all ideas to solve the user’s problem.

  • Prototype the most viable ideas into practical solutions.

  • Test those solutions.

While this is just one process of a handful that has developed over the last few decades, the Stanford method is receiving a lot of attention at the moment. Within the design community, there is a lot of conversation considering that design thinking may be on its way out. That it’s gotten too “watered down.” Certainly, there are more effective processes for solving creative problems and design thinking is rudimentary compared to many industry standards.

However, this also makes design thinking accessible to those who want to use its methods in their everyday lives. The most important thing to understand when using design thinking is how approachable it is. A room full of non-designers can be introduced to the process and in a couple of hours, find themselves thinking in ways they never have before.

Put it to the Test

Often the best way to learn how to use design thinking is through practical application. To begin, loosen up; this is going to feel like an unnatural experience, and it helps to have your guard down. Most of the time when we think of ideas, we are met with restraints or conditions that limit what we come up with.

The following exercise is broken into four steps that adapt the design thinking methodology for use on yourself, the user:

Define the Problem

What do you need? Let’s pick the most boring example we can… Take time to write down all of the reasons you are frustrated with the shoe rack you have. Is it in the way all the time? Too small? Too big? Aren’t happy with where it’s located in your living space? Everything you write down is you listening to your own needs and creating valuable information.

Find a Solution

What do you want? Write down all of the things you might want your new shoe rack to be, based on what you’ve revealed about your experience. What colors could it be? Size? How many shoes does could it fit? Is it made of wood or metal? Should it be on a shelf? Anything you think of, write it all down. There are no wrong answers.

Try it Out

What might work? Take all of the ideas you wrote down and group them with each other to make some solid concepts of what will work for you. You can now use this “blueprint” of your needs to begin the shopping process. Hit the stores (online or brick-and-mortar) and find one that fulfills as many of your needs as possible. Get it home and enjoy!

Try Again

It didn’t work? Wait. After a few weeks of use, you may discover that there were a number of things that you didn’t consider: The spaces for the shoes were too small for your partner’s boots and the kid’s shoes just fall through to the floor underneath. What do you do? Return it and go back to the “define the problem” step and add these other “users” to the method!

That’s all there is to it! Design thinking can be applied to anything in your life: your living space, relationship, parenting, work life, diet… the list goes on. Who knows, you might even end up with the perfect shoe rack!


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