Design Thinking-reporting from Stanford

May 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm 5 comments

Figure 1: My ex students Brainstorming at DNOPUC [2007-2009]

I normally talk a lot about Design Thinking, and normally I get a lot of comments on it. Yet the issue is it has become a buzzword lately. So what is Design Thinking?  In my life, I’ve been to a lot of Harvard Business Review conferences back home [Santiago, Chile] where business people love to talk about Design Thinking being part of their innovative management. Yet, I could never get a “real in depth” reflection on it. Maybe it was too much to ask for.

On the other hand, Design Thinking always seemed to be a great approach for engaging any Social Innovation enterprise. Overall, because it is framed under an interaction design focus which uses hands-on thinking. It looks for empathic approaches and fosters collaboration. I wanted to know how this concept had permeated other disciplines, and what other Chilean professionals thought about it. I asked one of my friends, Pablo Fernández, business-management alumni from PUC Chile and today a Master student in Stanford [management science and engineering], to write about his experience with Design Thinking. This is what he wrote:

Currently I’m reading a book that has giving me more reasons to believe in the designing thinking process. In particular, the importance of empathy, intuition and observation. Coming from the business world (and being a graduate student at the Engineering Department at Stanford) I always had a tendency to look for quantitative data, numbers that I can crunch and play with. I have been told to look for the average user, the consumer that lives in the mean of the curve. And to do that you should use polls, surveys and hard data to describe these groups.

Today, since I’m working at the, I am looking for extreme users, the outliers of the curve, single and ordinary consumers to talk with and get to know their motivations and feelings. And based on these particulars insights, to come up with a “point of view” and a “needs” to work on. Is that “scientific”? Can we trust this method based on observation and intuition? Is that something that anybody can do? When Darwin published his “Theory of Evolution”, he didn’t have a pile of facts to show. Actually, most of his work was based on the notes he took traveling around the world and his intuition. Even more, when it was first published, the fossil record was poorly known, and Darwin described the lack of transitional fossils as “the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory“. With this example, and many other from geniuses like Einstein, Rousseau and others, Nicholas Humphrey explains what is called “an exemplary scientific hypothesis”. It describes the ability to image more than they have seen, but in doing that they don’t create an imaginary world but to glimpse the existing order in the existing world. You don’t need a whole pile of evidence, just a theory that is better than any other going around.In his book The Inner Eye, Nicholas Humphrey states that all humans have this ability. We use this ability not as artist or scientist but as ordinary humans beings. We all, everyday of our life, image more than we can see, because we are constantly “reading” other peoples minds. He believes that all human posses a sort of inner eye, that looks into each other brains and tells us why and how we acting in the way we acting. This is possible because we are aware of our feelings. And because we are conscious of our emotions we can predict what other peoples are feeling based on what they are doing. Humans beings are all members of the same species, share almost 99% of our genes. Based on this biological fact, it is not very likely that two people will differ radically in the way their minds work. I can understand what the person next to me is thinking by the look in his face. Of course, all humans are different. But if by some accident of the evolution, I have a quite different kind of mind that the rest of the people, I will be facing a lots of troubles to understand others and I wouldn’t be very suitable to adapt myself in the world. Humphrey ends his book stating that “the single human trait that define what we are is our capacity to mind – to mind what are we and to mind what other people are.” We are related to one another and can reproduce the world of other people.

Design thinking gives a huge importance to empathy, interaction with the user and it is also based on the idea of discover feelings and latents emotions (an exemplary scientific hypothesis). It is focused on people and users, not markets. But most important of all design thinking is basically a methodology that allows people to have confidence in their creative ability. A framework that anybody can hang their creative confidence on. If we believe that, just like Humphrey states, we all have the ability to image more than we can see, we could all have the potential to be design thinkers”.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Martin Sjöman  |  May 11, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Thank you Constanza and Pablo Fernández. That’s a great angle on the concept design thinking!
    Instead of using quantitative research to get a picture of the average user, we can create theories by use of intuition to extrapolate data from observations and qualitative interviews.
    The human mind is constructed to let us understand each other’s emotions and motivations, and designers improve this ability by using it often.
    It is important to separate this human ability from design skills and knowledge, such as sketching or CAD to visualize concepts. Design thinking is a mind set, a framework or an approach, that anyone can use to solve problems and improve their understanding of people’s needs and desires.
    Thanks! I’ll check out “The Inner Eye”

  • […] Här är något jag tror kan vara intressant för många: Pablo Fernández skriver om designtänkande (design thinking) ur ett engineering och business-management perspektiv. Fernández definierar designtänkande som ett angreppssätt för att ta fram insikter om människors behov och önskningar, utifrån observation och intuition. Det intressanta är att han ger stöd för metoden utifrån Nicholas Humphreys bok “The Inner Eye”. Humphrey använder exempel som Darwin, Einstein och Rousseau för att visa att det faktiskt är en etablerad och framgångsrik vetenskaplig metod att bygga hypoteser utifrån intuition och en mycket liten mängd data. Hypotesbyggande handlar om att extrapolera fram en större bild av verkligheten ur det lilla man faktiskt ser. I stället för att använda kvantitativ research och räkna fram en bild av en genomsnittskund så kan vi skapa användbara hypoteser om kundernas behov och önskningar utifrån observationer, några få djupintervjuer och mänsklig intuition. Humphrey menar, som många andra, att det är en grundläggande mänsklig förmåga att kunna förstå andra människors känslor. Vi är skapta med förmågan till empati och kan sätta oss in andra människors situation och återskapa deras världar inom oss. Ekonomen och ingenjören Fernández beskriver (förvånat?) hur han numera söker upp och talar med enskilda människor för att förstå vad som motiverar dem. Det här stämmer med mina erfarenheter. Designtänkande är en approach till problemlösning. En designers kompetens ligger inte främst i tekniska kunskaper och färdigheter. En designers kärnkompetens ligger i att man tränat och litar till sin förmåga till empati och intuition. Designer tränar dagligen sin förmåga att förstå hur människor upplever saker. Det är den förmågan som låter designer skapa mervärden. Mervärden som svarar mot behov som oftast inte är mätbara. Designer har också fler metoder för att nå den här förståelsen, och kan använda sig av skisser, prototyper, och ”storytelling” för att locka fram de användarinsikter man behöver. Metoden att bygga och använda sig av hypoteser utifrån mänsklig empati och intuition är ett angreppssätt som alla kan använda. Designtänkande är häpnadsväckande effektivt då man behöver tänka nytt. Det är därför det talas så mycket om design thinking inom affärsutveckling och i innovationssammanhang. Design thinking brukar också kopplas till termen divergent thinking som handlar om förmågan att skaka fram många olika lösningar på ett problem. Men glöm inte bort det du lärt dig om kvantitativ research och statistiska metoder. Den logiska analysen (Convergent thinking) kommer in senare för att bekräfta hypoteserna, välja rätt lösning, och utvärdera resultaten. Läs mer på Chilenska Constanza Mirandas blogg ”Design for Social Innovation”. […]

  • 3. constanzamiranda  |  May 11, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks Martin,

    That’s exactly the point. First, as Poggenpohl and Sato [Design Collaborations 2009] have mentioned: Design is turning from a craft to a discipline. So we are leaving the technicalities [we still use them] in order to answer more complex questions. Second, To use indicative and qualitative methods instead of the quantitative statistical [representative to a population] methods. Though I believe statistical methods may be appropriate certain kind of questions, they can be also MISUSED to answer questions from particular communities. We can’t misread communities. We can’t design services and products globally. I am normally using mixed-methods to answer complex questions in the areas of systems [experience, service] which I believe is the area to go for us handling development issues such as poor education or unequal health systems. THANKS FOR READING THE BLOG AND COMMENTING!


  • 4. Pablo Fernandez  |  May 12, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Martin; thank you very much for your comments!
    One of my majors “aha!” with the designing thinking method is the idea of focusing the attention on a single user. The problem with extrapolate an “average user” based in polls and survey is that many time that kind of user doesn´t exist! It is a construction based on data that we image to simplify the problem and to believe that we are targeting the right consumer. Instead, developing empathy for a single user and trying to reach his deepest emotions and needs allows us to cover a broader range of users who share his same emotions and needs (the idea stated in the Inner Eye that we all, as human beings, share a similar mindset).
    Of course, we will always need data and statistics…

  • 5. JB  |  May 12, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Hi there.

    Interesting post, but I feel as if I missed the first part of the movie (which, by the way, is not in this blog). Can anyone explain to this rookie what design thinking is? Wikipedia says

    “process for practical, creative resolution of problems or issues that looks for an improved future result. It is the essential ability to combine empathy, creativity and rationality to meet user needs and drive business success. Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking is a creative process based around the “building up” of ideas. There are no judgments early on in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation in the ideation and prototype phases. Outside the box thinking is encouraged in these earlier processes since this can often lead to creative solutions.”

    Woould you agree eith that?


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contact + citing (CC license)

Constanza Miranda PhD(c) design.anthro
* Currently @ DILAB
* Ex.VR @ Stanford's Center for Design Research [DesignXLab]
* Ex.Instructor @ PUC Chile [Design+Engineering]
Use citations ¡Citar es ético!
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Design for Social Innovation initiative by Constanza Miranda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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