Design Thinking to Address Social and Business Problems

Design Thinking integrates structured creative problem-solving and “systems thinking” methods in design, engineering, business, educational, and non-profit settings by drawing on:

  • Empathy” for the problem context, often using ethnographic field research
  • Creativity in developing solutions
  • Rationality in aligning solutions with the context

David M. Kelley

David M. Kelley, IDEO founder, applied “design thinking” to business, based on Rolf Faste’s discussions Stanford of Robert McKim’s foundational book, Experiences in Visual Thinking

Design Thinking has been categorized in seven stages:  

  •     Define the problem, audience, criteria for “success,” priority
  •     Research the issue’s history, obstacles, previous efforts, stakeholders, end-users, thought leaders
  •     Ideate via brainstorming to identify end-users’ needs, wants
  •     Prototype with combined, expanded refined ideas, solicit feedback from end users, others
  •     Choose solutions after reviewing the objective
  •     Implement after determining, planning tasks, resources, assignments, execution timeline
  •     Learn by gathering end-user feedback, evaluating whether the solution met its goals, document successes and areas for improvement
    Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, discussed the cycle of Inspiration-Ideation–Implementation by applying such complementary processes as analysis and synthesis, and convergent and divergent thinking in Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation.His TED Talk characterizes Design Thinking as a collaborative, participatory, human-centered process to solve problems innovatively by integrating opposing ideas and constraints and balancing among:
  • user desirability
  • technical feasibility
  • economic viabilityThomas Lockwood’s Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value, echoed Design Thinking’s use of careful observation, field research, graphic representation of solutions, and prototyping.He augmented the familiar framework by contributing an additional recommendation:  Concurrent business analysis, to accelerate innovative business strategy development and implementation.

    University of Virginia Darden School of Business professor Jeanne Liedtka added to Design Thinking process structures with her four-phase, 10-step framework in Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers, organized around key questions:

  • What Is?
  • What If?
  • What Wows?
  • What Works?
    Frog Design’s David Sherwin and Robert Fabricant developed Collective Action Toolkit, well-suited for young people in developing countries to become involved in developing solutions to pressing community problems.The process helps them develop important life skills:
  • Critical thinking
  • Listening to others
  • Asking effective questions
  • Generating innovative ideas
  • Active collaboration
  • Creating high-impact, motivating stories
  • Sustaining collective action
    CAT activities draw on design Thinking Principles in six areas:
  • Imagine New Ideas
  • Make Something Real
  • Plan for Action
  • Build Your Team
  • Seek New Understanding
  • Clarify Your GoalOutputs are documented according to:
  • What We Did
  • What We Learned
  • What We’ll DoNext
    Frog’s Collective Action Toolkit was field-tested with girls Bangladesh and Kenya, who reported increased self-confidence to engage in community development activities, and increased involvement and leadership in community building initiatives.-*What are some ways that Design Thinking can solve problems you see in work and life?

11 thoughts on “Design Thinking to Address Social and Business Problems

  1. Pingback: Design Thinking to Address Social and Business Problems | Kathryn … « fred zimny's designing design thinking driven operations

  2. Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson

    Hi Kathryn, great daisy chaining of the various design thinking principles and masters. I particularly like the fresh language in the Collective Action Toolkit. Despite the fact that the words are abstract, they are verbs and generally more accessible than some of the other conceptualizations. Thanks for sharing! Jennifer

  3. kathrynwelds Post author

    Thank you for your comment, Jennifer.
    Frog’s work applying award-winning design principles to address social problems and assist non-profit organizations is noteworthy.
    Another practical resource is Jeanne Liedtka’s Four Questions in Design Thinking, mentioned above, and discussed with Mariposa Leadership’s Sue Bethanis on 29 November 2012.

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