Lately I’ve been working on several projects which require very careful planning and time to execute. So what happens when you’ve finished a project and you find out it doesn’t solve the problem you created it to solve? This was the topic of conversation at a Practice Lab with The Design Gym last week on my quest to become an expert at Design Thinking. Coincidentally, I was suffering for this very conundrum when I walked into the lab. I love being properly prepared for class!
Sometimes we start a project with so much energy and vigor, blazing a trail forward only to find we’ve not quite answered ALL the right questions. This happens a lot, especially in organizations. It is exactly this problem, that Design Thinking intends to solve. Turns out, I went there with one problem and I ended up finding out that I have another problem. Now why would I ever go back to practice lab if they are going to help me figure out that I have more problems than I thought?
Problem SEEING vs. problem SOLVING. What problem are we trying to solve? We practiced reframing the problem to view it from different angles, broader and more narrow picture, to decipher the actual need. Sometimes the bigger problem is having the right question. For example, I went there with the problem of finding a logistic solution to a website structure that enables Garrott Designs. I was going to design think a new website. Turns out, I have more abstract issues that need to be clarified before creating a structure to support them. How did they show me to this door and get me to open it?
We talked a lot about Empathy. Who is the user, how are they using it, what do they expect? Can you put yourself in their place and see the world from where they sit? How did we do this? Well, they put us in new groups of two every twenty minutes. Everyone in the room was a complete stranger to the other. For a few minutes each, you had to explain the problem and what you are trying to do. Having a totally fresh mind react to your ideas and ask questions sheds a tremendously bright light in very dark corners. You just wouldn’t get this kind of fresh mind from a friend who knows what you’re trying to do.
Talking with perfect strangers became a brainstorm session. I could feel myself getting excited about their ideas just as much as my own. I had suggestions and could see places into their dark corners they weren’t able to recognize while focusing on other assumptions. By the time the lab was over, I felt like I had made new friends as well as acquired a new approach. Not bad for a three hour workshop after working hours!
Design thinking isn’t for every problem. Some solutions are obvious and actionable. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering how far down the rabbit hole you need to chase a problem.
Is the ideal solution ambiguous?
Are there unknown user needs?
Is it a high impact challenge?