First You Explore - Breaking Down the Design Thinking Process

Step 1. Explore.

I just wrapped up week six of this 12-week course* on Design Thinking and I find it telling that we have spent most of that time in the ’Exploration’ phase. Since we spent so much time on it in class, I thought it might be valuable to write a summary of some of the key takeaways of this specific phase of the innovation process.

If you missed my first post about this course, where I provide a brief overview of what Design Thinking is, you can check it out here.

The most important thing to know is that FIRST you explore, THEN you create, THEN you implement, and you do it all with EMPATHY.

So what does ‘Exploration’ look like and why is it so important?

When faced with a problem to solve - It is an all too common mistake to focus on the solution first. We are all guilty, engineers and designers alike. For some reason, we all love to jump to that brainstorming phase before understanding if there truly is a need and a desire. Design Thinking helps us quit that by hammering home the value of understanding the problem before seeking to solve it.

By understanding how other people experience the problem we can gain new insights and identify the needs that they may not know they have, the latent needs. This helps us to break the problem down into smaller parts, which makes it easier to identify effective solutions.

Ok, but HOW?

Interview and observe. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes as much as possible. Deconstruct the problem. 

We examined a case study with IDEO, a global design and innovation company that has become the industry leader with their Design Thinking strategy. In the case study, IDEO was asked to design a new type of walker. They started by interviewing and observing the users. 

To do this well, we have to know who the users are and it’s not who you may think.

For this product the obvious user is the customer that is buying and using the walker. But there is also the salesperson who has vast experience with customers and can speak to what they tend to buy (which can be different from what they say they need), as well as a physical therapist that teach the customer how to use the walker and observe how they use it (which can help identify latent needs). “Users” often extend beyond the individuals that are “using” the product.

Does this all sound super obvious? That’s great! But are you doing it? Are you reeeallly doing it?

If not, it’s not too late to start.

With six more weeks to go, I’m sure there will be plenty more to share. Next up: Create and Implement!

*The course is called ‘Mastering Design Thinking’ and is part of the MIT Sloan Executive Education program.


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