Does Design Thinking work?
Are we measuring what needs to be measured?
Design Thinking garners a lot of attention these days. A simple Google Trend for the search term 'Design Thinking' shows a graph that continues to peak over the last few years.
To continue the entry into the rabbit hole of Google searches, I then searched a few other terms like its 'Success stories' and 'Failure' and the results were similarly mind boggling. On Medium itself, there are close to 50 posts every day that are talking about Design Thinking!
As can be seen, most of this attention fits into two distinct camps-one that's gushingly positive about impact of Design Thinking while the other that's overtly critical. I then got into more details about what are these two camps saying. Assuming both the advocates and opponents have a good hypothesis to start with, I then used a data-centric approach to review the method used to declare if Design Thinking is a success or failure. I was surprised (or not!) to review that majority of the material available for both sides is scant on evidence...
- Data gathering: Barring some exceptions, most of the data that's gathered to prove success or failure of Design Thinking is anecdotal. There is hardly any research done that has systematically thought of gathering data about what issues we want to address, which Design Thinking interventions were planned, why were they planned etc. By missing this important first step, whatever data gets collected, is limited and comes loaded with bias.
- Data review: In absence of systematic data collection, many of the success/failure stories gather data that's not scrutinised well for both identifying what worked and what did not work. Both the success and failure sides would have benefited by gathering additional evidence at this phase to gather additional data and/or look for additional evidence for their respective hypotheses.
- Data interpretation: What happens to a research study that has a flawed hypothesis to begin with and gathers and reviews data inadequately? In an almost predictive progression, most of the success and failure stories now lead to somehow tying the scant evidence to the assumptions already firmed up in the hypothesis phase.
I cannot help myself but point out some of the more absurd claims that have been made; you can use all these readymade claims in a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) fashion for proving either success or failure of Design Thinking!
- Design Thinking definitely will/will not work in <>industry. (Fill in the blanks with industry of your choice; my favorite one is Healthcare...)
- <>as a country is best/ill-prepared to adapt Design Thinking. (Choose the country that you most like or dislike! For starters, Google search for "Design Thinking in India")
- Design Thinking works best/worst in multidisciplinary teams/individual selected members/small groups/large groups
- And so on...
What do we need?
Lets cut through these confusing and often contradictory claims; I would like to suggest a simple process for those of us who are still curious to use Design Thinking as one of the tools to achieve our goals (individual/ team/ organizational goals all included). This process assumes that you already have basic understanding of what is meant by Design Thinking, usual methods followed to apply Design Thinking etc
- Think about why would you like to try Design Thinking to the particular problem you would like to solve. Maybe you do not need to apply a cookie-cutter approach and chose only some part of the process? If so, which parts of the process you think will help you?
- Once you have thought about step 1, now think what will happen if you do not use Design Thinking process/parts; will there be an impact on the outcomes? If yes, how will you differentiate it? If no, why are you insisting on Design Thinking?
- Finally, at the conclusive phase of your project, look back and ask the same questions, now against the planned impact criteria you defined-did it really work and was this necessarily due to the Design Thinking process/parts? If yes, how can I replicate it in future? If no, what went wrong?
If you notice, the above steps do not have anything to do with Design Thinking methods but simply tries to apply a focused and analytic approach in using any new business process/tool. Some Design Thinking purists might not like my suggestion of 'modularizing' the process, but so be it!
A quick note to future supporters/critiques of Design Thinking
Next time before drawing a conclusion, maybe think about your data collection, review and analysis once again?