Design Thinking Basics for Navigating Complexity

Design thinking is not just for people who love post-it notes. It's not a one size fits all process, either. 

Design thinking is a "way of seeing" and is useful for navigating complex or unpredictable situations by holding multiple perspectives. There's a consideration for the experience the customer might have with the product or service you're creating. You might take what data you have (they like dogs, she likes extreme sports, he likes ciders, for instance) and with a pen and some paper connect the dots by imagining them moving from one experience to another. 

What would a typical day look like? How, when and where might they interact with your offering? At their homes? In their social circles? (You could even map these things out as a network, if you wanted.)

Legend has it that the term "design thinking" was termed by IDEO founders David Kelley and Tim Brown.

In its simplest form, the process goes like this:

Ideate - explore, define the problem
Prototype - model solutions
Evaluate - test and incorporate feedback

I think people have been design thinking for a lot longer than there's been a name for it, because it's a natural way of exploring by asking questions and adapting mental models when more information can be gathered.

Sometimes when a solution works it becomes a best practice, and solidifies into strategy. But design thinkers never lose sight of the importance of context or complexity--or of feedback. They know that every situation can be slightly unique. It's this sort of flexibility that makes designers sought after for a whole range of business challenges, and often outpaces classic strategy where innovation is concerned.

Stacy Hale is a former co-host of the HumanCurrent podcast. Now, Stacy is Managing Editor for design4emergence, a digital magazine which blends network science, design thinking and strategy for better decision making in the age of networks. Check out our latest episode where Stacy returns to talk with Angie about "complex, wicked problems".