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When you’re comfortable practicing design thinking, you can take on a wide range of challenges. It’s a powerful set of skills, and it can be applied to almost any industry or project. But it’s important to understand how the process works, so you can apply it appropriately and effectively. The first step in the design thinking process is empathizing. This means learning about your audience, what they care about, and how they’re experiencing a problem.
You want to develop empathy for the people you’re designing for. This will help you define the human need your design is trying to address, which will in turn shape the solutions you find. Once you’ve gathered enough information about your target audience, the next phase is to clarify what you’ve learned and identify any themes. This is where the ideation part of design thinking comes in, and it’s important to be open to all ideas, even if they are impractical. In fact, shooting down impractical ideas can actually limit your creativity and prevent you from finding the best solution. The final step is prototyping and testing. This stage is often overlooked, but it’s a vital aspect of design thinking. It’s where you test potential solutions and iterate based on your results. It’s also where you’ll likely discover new problems that didn’t emerge during the previous stages.
For example, if you’re working on improving employee onboarding, you might interview recent new hires to get their feedback on the process. And if you see that many new hires feel frustrated with the time it takes to become familiar with their job, you might experiment with different ways to streamline the onboarding process. Another common method for implementing design thinking is to use systems analysis, which helps you look at the bigger picture and create holistic solutions that are aligned with your overall goals. This is an especially useful tool when addressing wicked problems, which are complex challenges that are ill-defined and require an expansive, innovative response.
The beauty of design thinking is that it’s a flexible process that can be tailored to fit your unique situation and needs. The five steps of the design thinking process — empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test — all work together to support innovation. And each step can be reworked, revised or expanded to better meet your objectives. For instance, you might use a different prototyping tool during the prototype stage than you did during the ideation phase, or you might revisit your personas during the testing phase to see if your initial hypothesis still holds true. The most important thing is that you stay iterative and don’t give up until you’ve reached a solution that satisfies your users’ needs. This is what makes design thinking so effective. And it’s what makes it so valuable for businesses looking to solve a broad spectrum of challenges.