Reimagine problem-solving with design thinking

January 2, 2020 by Meagan Haan

Reimagine problem-solving with design thinking by Advicent

about the author:

Meagan Haan

User experience designer

Meagan Haan is a user experience designer at Advicent, the financial planning technology provider of choice for nearly 100,000 financial professionals.

Design thinking is a process for creative problem-solving. It is an exercise that has been around since the 1960s and has been applied to a wide range of problems and situations, from creating product strategies to designing full-fledged applications. Design thinking, despite its very specific name, can be applied to any field; it does not have to be design-specific.

At the forefront of design thinking is a desire and interest in understanding users, or anyone who will interact with a product or service. It is extremely useful in developing empathy with target users and re-framing problems in a human-centric way, which in turn leads to more effective products and services.

The 5 phases in the design thinking process are:

1. Empathize

2. Define

3. Ideate

4. Prototype

5. Test

In this blog, I will explain each of the 5 phases of the design thinking process as well as its merits. Let’s start with the process.

The 5 phase design thinking process

Phase 1: Empathize

The first stage in the process is dedicated to empathizing with and understanding a user. This step can include observing people or actively engaging with them to discern their wants, needs, and intent. During the empathize stage, it is important to let go of any held assumptions you might have and step into the user’s shoes.

Phase 2: Define

The second stage is where the problem is defined and addressed. While gathering information within the empathize phase, patterns will emerge surrounding clients’ struggles and difficulties. This step is good for taking those patterns and creating a clear, concise problem statement that is framed from the perspective of what a user needs or wants, rather than from the perspective of company goals.

For example, try to avoid viewing a problem from the lens of a company, such as, "We need to increase the number of small business clients by 10 percent." Instead, a better approach is to define the problem from the perspective of the user, such as, "Small business owners have trouble modifying their individual financial plans for the now more complex needs of being an entrepreneur."

Phase 3: Ideate

After building an understanding of the users and creating a problem statement comes the stage where potential solutions begin to form. There is a large variety of ideation techniques that can be used, from mind-mapping, to storyboarding, to brainstorming. At the end of this phase, you will want to narrow it down to a handful of ideas you feel confident in moving forward with.

Phase 4: Prototype

Now that a solution has been identified, you can begin to turn your ideas into concrete concepts. Paper prototyping, low-fidelity wireframed prototypes, and high-fidelity prototypes are all ways to create something tangible. Use whatever method fits the project you are working on.

Phase 5: Test

Testing is the “final” step listed in the design thinking process, but it is important to note that this is rarely ever the true last stage. After testing, the results will require you to reiterate on ideas and possibly even update your problem statement. With testing, you will interact with users so that they can utilize your prototypes. Doing this allows you to gain insight into any problems they encountered or whether your product or strategy actually solves the problem you want it to.

Why design thinking matters

At Advicent, within the UX team, design thinking is a process we are aiming to make use of as often as we can. Design thinking encourages creativity and often produces innovative approaches and solutions. It also focuses on users, which reduces the risk of creating something a user will not want or need. Design thinking focuses on solving those real user problems that otherwise go unaddressed.

When you put that emphasis on your user, what you release will also boost engagement with them and can oftentimes increase their satisfaction with your company.

Having a defined process to follow that’s flexible in the way design thinking is also speeds up the process of generating solutions, which also decreases the amount of time spent on design and development. Because of its flexible nature, design thinking can be applied to every area of a business, which also reduces the time needed to learn multiple processes for different topics.

Takeaways

Design thinking is a problem-solving process that helps you get to the most client-centric, innovative solution. Applying design thinking to business problems can help anyone rethink their products. It is an iterative approach that one can use as a roadmap for any problem that also works well with other processes.

“The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing – building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help.”

-David Kelley

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