Design Thinking

Posted by carakane on December 13, 2017

This week I attended a talk about Design Thinking by Jessica Schomaker, who is a User Experience Consultant at Ingage Partners. Jessica’s approach made the concepts really accessible and it was incredibly thought-provoking.

Design Thinking or Cognition is at its core the process you go through when solving problems. It requires you to begin with planning and intention and its goal is to make things work. There are many different approaches or ways to visualize the stages or processes of Design Thinking, but, as Jessica pointed out, they all seem to share the same components of the Stanford Design School’s schema: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. Design Thinking, then, is an iterative process that passes in and out of abstract and concrete phases of action and thought.

There were two things that really caught my attention and that I’ve been mulling over since the talk. The first is that on top of the concept of different phases of work being either abstract or concrete, we can also imagine them as having scope. As a developer, scope is a familiar concept, and we can apply it to design. We begin with a large scope as we do user-centered research and Empathize. We narrow the scope as we synthesize that information and Define the problem. We widen the scope again as we brainstorm and Ideate. And we then narrow the scope iteratively as we Prototype and Test.

The second aspect of Jessica’s talk that I’ve been really thinking about is the idea of systems. She used the example of which systems might be affected by the adoption of self-driving cars, and I think this is the best kind of mental exercise. Although we may begin by thinking about something large, like self-driving cars, in truth all of our implementations exist within systems. The code of our project is its own system, and how and where we implement our changes impacts the whole system. From a development perspective, implementation inside a system is a key aspect of our work, and we can use design to approach that work—that is, being intentional and planning for an outcome.