Wednesday, August 13, 2014

KISSing the Design Thinking Process

Front Cover of Experiences in Visual Thinking
In Experiences in Visual Thinking, first published in June of 1973 by Robert McKim, the design process is summarized as Express, Test Cycle.

Express, Test, Cycle from Experiences in Visual Thinking
Bernie Roth explained this process as; Express an idea by coming up with a trial solution, then Test  the idea to see what does and doesn't work about it, then Cycle, by using what you've learned to come up with a modified or new idea.  Repeat until the problem is solved, or you run out of resources.

This illustrated the basic elements of a design process which adds rapid prototyping and visualization tools to traditional methods of problem solving using Cartesian analysis.

Another foundational text is The Universal Traveller, first Published August 1st, 1974.  In it Don Kolberg and Jim Bagnall present a multi-phase process for ideation success.

Travel Map from The Universal Traveller
The seven process steps; Accept Situation, Analyse, Define, Ideate, Select, Implement and Evaluate look spiral, but are actually circular and interconnected, since you can jump off to any of the other steps once you have done the evaluation.

Its not too far from Kolberg and Bagnall to a more current expression, by IDEO:

Design Thinking Process by IDEO
Or this one, currently in use at the;

Design Thinking Process by the

The difficulty I have with all these images is that they don't really convey the phases and cyclical flow of the Design Thinking Process clearly, as currently taught and practiced at the, so they are inaccurate guides for the novice.

To that end, I propose the following compilation and re-interpretation of the process diagram;

The phases and goals surround the user by putting Point Of View in the center. Starting at the top (Empathy, of course) you go clockwise around the cells until you get back the start arrow.

I like this even more because it answers the question; What am I supposed to be doing in each phase - as opposed to How am I supposed to be doing it?

Research <-> Synthesize <-> Ideate <-> Prototype <-> Test

Next, we'll examine each phase (cell) of the process;

Note: Throughout this blog we're going to pay attention to the Five W's and an H;
Who, What, Why, When, Where and How.

Research - Starting with Empathy

One of the primary goals of Design Thinking is to understand a person’s thoughts, emotions, and motivations (what)so that you can determine how to innovate for them (why). In order to do that, in the words of Tom Kelley; "You have to talk to customers."

By understanding the choices that people make and the behaviors that they exhibit, you can identify their needs. This can be done directly, thru interviews, or indirectly thru observation, although direct interviews can reveal much more because of the opportunity for two way interaction.

Rules and Tools for Interviewing with Empathy


1. Ask “Why?" - Even when you think you know the answer, ask people why they do or say things. The answers will sometimes surprise you. Be prepared to ask at least a few times.

2. Ask "open ended" questions - Binary (yes/no) questions can be answered in a word; you want to be hosting an in-depth conversation built on stories. (See below)

3. Be Patient - A conversation, even started from one question, should go on as long as it needs to. 

4. Don’t be afraid of silence - Interviewers often feel the need to ask another question when there is a pause. If you allow for silence, a person can reflect on what they’ve just said and may reveal something deeper.

5. Don’t suggest answers to your questions - Even if they pause before answering, don’t help them by suggesting an answer. This can unintentionally get people to say things that agree with your expectations.

6. Look for inconsistencies - Sometimes what people say and what they do are different. These inconsistencies often hide interesting insights.

7. Pay attention to nonverbal cues - Be aware of body language and facial expressions. Watch their eyes, movements, posture and gestures.

8. Encourage stories - The stories people tell reveal how they think about the world. Ask questions that get people telling stories.

9. Be prepared to capture - Interview in pairs whenever possible. Get permission to and make a voice or video recording.  It is very difficult to properly engage someone and take detailed notes at the same time.


1. Probe for feelings - Ask questions like; "How did that make you feel?" or "What do you feel about that?"

2. Ask about a specific instances or occurrences“Tell me about the last time you ______.”

3. Ask questions neutrally - “What do you think about buying gifts for your spouse?” is a better question than; “Don’t you think shopping is great?” because the second question implies that there is a right answer.

Interviewing with empathy is all about the other person, their thoughts, their feelings, their beliefs, actions and motivations. Your job is to submerge yourself, your own ideas and identity as much as possible and capture their story. You'll have plenty of opportunity to add your individuality and creativity into the process shortly.

Note: If these sound like ideas for marriage counseling it’s because they are about building and strengthening relationships… and they’d work there too!

NEXT... Capturing the conversation.

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