The following is a guest post by Fresco
Design thinking is a process that helps teams understand their customer’s needs and create solutions that are innovative and to the point. Because of this ability, design thinking is a process that is very effective when targeting and improving your user experience. In this article, we will define design thinking, talk about why it’s so important to innovation, and demonstrate some of the ways that design thinking is most helpful for improving UX.
Design thinking definition
What is design thinking?
Design thinking is a strategy that emphasizes the use of visual elements in problem-solving and asks participants to use diagrams, drawings, and images to document their ideas.
By using visualization techniques when brainstorming, design thinking allows teams to get more in-depth into the real applications of your solutions and allows everyone to gain a deep understanding of the concepts from a glance.
This is the main reason design thinking is so effective with teams and these features allow it to surpass traditional brainstorming techniques.
How design thinking impacts innovation
As previously mentioned, design thinking helps teams gain a deeper level of understanding for solutions they are building or ideas they are analyzing. When innovating, the ability to develop a shared understanding of the concept at hand is critical because it means that your idea translates well to the rest of your team and can be easily understood.
When people understand how your concept works and how it relates to the rest of your project, your innovation exercise can take on a collaborative angle where people are looking forward, using visual elements to create connections, and analyzing how they can implement innovative solutions.
Using design thinking to enable a shared understanding for your team and turning innovation into a more collaborative forum is one way that design thinking impacts innovation and helps create more innovative solutions in UX.
How design thinking relates to UX
Understanding the mechanics and intention behind design thinking is fundamental from a UI/UX perspective and design thinking has many important crossovers with user experience.
The overall goal of creating a good user experience is designing a product that is easy to use, not one that requires users to adapt to the product.
Where design thinking overlaps with user experience is that it helps locate and analyze segments of the user’s experience that are deeper than their initial surface level concerns.
Design thinking is often utilized to find solutions to little-known problems that users might not even realize are hindering their experience, or sometimes it can be used to address the root causes of common issues.
How UX designers use design thinking is essentially putting themselves in the shoes of the user, creating empathy for them, and attempting to replicate the issues that they experience.
Ultimately, design thinking exercises allow UX designers to gain a deeper understanding of the problems their customers’ experience and find unique solutions that were previously out of reach.
UX design thinking advantages
Now that we have an idea of how design thinking is able to impact UX, let’s go over some specific advantages and strategies to use when engaging in design thinking.
Breaks ingrained thinking
When you’re stuck in a rut and struggling to imagine solutions to your user’s problems, you might be suffering from ingrained thinking.
Ingrained thinking is when, due to repeated patterns of activities or thoughts, you find yourself going in circles with the same solutions that might not be clicking. Ingrained thinking is a common issue with online teams and is rooted in how we live everyday life.
Ingrained thinking patterns help when we make regular, everyday decisions but narrow our ability to creatively find new solutions when we venture outside of our traditional thought schema.
Breaking out of an ingrained thinking pattern is difficult because it requires you to first realize that what you’re doing isn’t working, and find creative ways to brainstorm and collaborate on a new solution.
Design thinking is the perfect exercise to break out of an ingrained thinking pattern because it promotes an entirely new style of collaboration. Utilizing visual collaboration and imagery to communicate ideas with your team helps people gain a new perspective on the issues at hand and helps break them out of their pattern of ingrained thinking.
Ingrained thinking is really important when it comes to UX because many design solutions are very similar to each other, but the root problem being experienced might be very different.
There are a ton of design elements that act as “industry standards” and are required in a competitive atmosphere. Because of this expectation, and because of ingrained thinking patterns, people might not jump at an innovative solution because of what they already know or are comfortable with.
Design thinking allows people to express their true feelings in a collaborative setting, helping them break ingrained thinking patterns and creating innovative user experience solutions.
Creates visual solutions
UX design is inherently a visual medium. People will always be interacting with your product/service visually, so it follows that you should brainstorm solutions visually as well.
Visual brainstorming allows your team to create solutions that are directly related to the UX issue that you’re trying to solve. This enables you to create solutions through drawings, images, notes, or any other tool that depicts your UX solution.
Brainstorming visually is much more efficient than describing solutions through written word or describing them verbally, and it allows you to circumvent the miscommunication that comes with traditional ideation.
When conducting UX brainstorming in its traditional, written manner, you fragment the problem-solving process and create a disconnect between the solution that you think is being created and the final product that is implemented.
Design thinking allows your team to visualize your UX solution as you go, creating a much more efficient and holistic collaboration experience.
Utilizes online whiteboards
After hearing all of the important advantages of design thinking you might be wondering how you should actually conduct a design thinking exercise.
Online whiteboards are defined on Fresco as “A shared, online workspace where teams can utilize visual elements in order to express ideas and collaborate together.”
Online whiteboards are the perfect tool to implement for a design thinking exercise because they create a collaborative environment that everyone can share and work on together, and they have a ton of tools that can be utilized to wireframe any solution you need.
Additionally, you can use online whiteboards to create different templates to organize and implement your solutions. These templates are dynamic and permanent, meaning you can use them all the way through to the completion of your project and you can keep them around to reference different solutions in the future.
These dynamic additions make online whiteboards the perfect tool for auditing your user experience and engaging in unique design thinking exercises.
Design thinking stages
When analyzing your UX design, it’s important to understand the steps to follow when engaging in a design thinking exercise.
It’s important to note that while it makes sense to conduct design thinking in these steps, they are not strictly chronological and can be adapted to fit any unique exercise that your team might have.
That being said, here are the general steps to design thinking.
Empathizing with your users is central to understanding their needs, and the principal method of creating empathy for them is by conducting user research.
Researching your users is incredibly easy through either moderated or unmoderated testing, and is a great way to gain insight into the ins and outs of your customer’s perspective.
When conducting research, you can analyze the specific situations that your customer experiences, and organize them to create a map of their journey. Understanding your customer’s journey is necessary for design thinking and sets the foundation for the rest of your analysis.
After breaking down the customer’s journey, you need to understand what their specific needs are. Customer needs are defined as “Customer needs are the motivations that the consumer has to use or purchase a product/service.”
Defining needs is an important exercise to conduct visually because it can be really helpful to organize and prioritize needs based on their relative importance.
When prioritizing needs, it’s critical that you are able to visualize the user’s experience to ensure that you see things the same way as them and are prioritizing their needs effectively.
The ideation phase is where most of the brainstorming will happen, and it is the best place to engage in visual collaboration. You can take your customers’ needs and discuss tangible solutions using drawings, images, and other design thinking strategies.
When you think about what unique elements design thinking brings, this is where you should experiment with new collaboration strategies. Push people to express things visually, and create visual diagrams to explain concepts.
Design thinking is built for brainstorming and this is the stage in the design thinking process where your team will conduct the most group ideation.
The prototype phase is important to design thinking and allows your team to test out solutions that you see as possibly viable. This is where you might start experimenting with possible solutions and creating diagrams for your user interface.
Prototyping is important to design thinking because it narrows the solution search down to the options that your team sees as critical to meeting the needs of your customer. Once this is done, you can gain an accurate image of how your solution would impact the customer and hopefully solve their problems.
Testing is the last step in the cycle before the actual implementation and is where you conduct usability testing on your final solution. This stage occurs after you’ve decided on which solution will be implemented and are conducting tests to ensure it meets the customer’s needs.
After you test a solution, you can finally deploy it to the customer and improve their user experience. UX is all about small changes that increase the intuition and usability of your product/service, and testing is very important to make sure that your proposed solution has the functional mechanics to solve your customer’s problems.
UX is critical to the usability of your product/service, and design thinking provides some unique opportunities for your team to expand their thinking and find unique solutions. If you liked this article, make sure you check out Fresco to learn how you can conduct a design thinking workshop for your team.
This post was contributed by Fresco — Fresco is a startup focused on providing unique visual collaboration solutions and expanding the potential of virtual whiteboards.