Current Issue October 2015 Special Section

Design Thinking: Where Challenges and Inspiration Collide

Written By: Kelly Thompson

Design thinking is a methodology that is commonly used to problem-solve repeatable issues that hamper businesses and products from creating extraordinary results. Design thinking is the process by which a solution is derived from the point or perspective of the user; it involves creating opportunities based on what the needs of the user may be rather than trying to “fix” the problem based on the originator or creator. In essence, it is a process that designs solutions from the human perspective. Design thinking consists of four major key elements:

1. Define the problem.
Or, perhaps, define the right problem to be solved. Defining the problem via design thinking requires participation and immersion in examining the processes, protocols, procedures and experiences around the issue. Removing or shifting the filters that sometimes cloud the determination of the actual problem is paramount.

2. Consider the options.
During this stage, many people want to solve the problem in the most obvious, easiest way. Design thinking requires considering many solutions, and exploring the different ways each can be applied is encouraged. Many “opportunities” will present during this phase, but it’s important that we view them as such. Team work and several perspectives are crucial and necessary in exploring the potential direction of the project.

3. Refine and choose the direction.

Design thinkers create an environment that allows for creativity, growth and experimentation. “Idea-killers,” aka previous experience, can hamper the process. Once there are several ideas or thoughts, design thinkers often combine several together to narrow the list or integrate common themes for better selection of what moves on to the stage phase. Collaboration and a positive environment for choosing the direction to re-design is critical in this phase.

4. Commit resources.
In this stage committing resources to a defined and critical problem is discovered. Choosing the problem and applying the process is a proven method that will allow an unveiling of potential creativity in the actual problem solving. Remember, design thinking is repeatable, so the other problems that did not make the cut can be applied against the process at a later time

While many people associate design thinking with a tangible object or product, it has become hugely popular in redefining procedures and protocol around service-based companies and organizations. Applying the design-thinking process has become a staple for customer- and user-based initiatives, especially given the trending growth of more “concierge” type service lines.

Currently, UX: Gainesville is a design-thinking initiative taking place in the City of Gainesville to create a more user-centered city. The goal of the project is to better assist residents and businesses in using city government services and to provide and anticipate the needs of the users. Find out more by following @UX:Gainesville on Facebook and Twitter.

According to global design thinking firm IDEO, thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes and strategies. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.
Design thinking is a deeply human process that taps into abilities we all have that are often overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It relies on our abilities to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional, and to express ourselves through means beyond words or symbols. Nobody wants to run an organization on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an over-reliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as risky. Design thinking provides an integrated third way.

The design-thinking process is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. There are three spaces to keep in mind: inspiration, ideation and implementation. Inspiration is the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions. Ideation is the process of generating, developing and testing ideas. Implementation is the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.

Under this system, IDEO uses both analytical tools and generative techniques to help clients see how their new or existing operations could look in the future — and build road maps for getting there. Our methods include business model prototyping, data visualization, innovation strategy, organizational design, qualitative and quantitative research and IP liberation.

All of IDEO’s work is done in consideration of the capabilities of our clients and the needs of their customers. As we iterate toward a final solution, we assess and reassess our designs. Our goal is to deliver appropriate, actionable and tangible strategies. The result: new, innovative avenues for growth that are grounded in business viability and market desirability. For more information on IDEO, visit

KELLY THOMPSON is the Director of Getting it Done and co-founder of Momentum, a communications and PR firm specializing in brand awareness. She is currently working with the City of Gainesville in the Planning and Development Services Department and the UX: Gainesville project, in hopes of creating a more user-centered city.

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