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Design thinking: A different approach to problem solving

Let those ideas out into the world!
Let those ideas out into the world!

It used to be that “think outside the box” were the words companies turned to when searching for new ways to solve old problems. Today, those four words have been paired down to two: design thinking.

Only they aren’t as new as one might think.

American psychologist and sociologist Herbert Simon laid the foundation for design thinking in a 1969 article, “Science of the Artificial.” In the article, he described the word design as “changing existing circumstances into preferred ones.”

To summarize, design thinking is a creative-based systematic process based on building ideas. LeeAnn Eddins of l.a.eddins design was first introduced to the concept while working in academia. She has since adapted its method to work in all aspects of her life and gives presentations on how others can do the same.

“The world is changing all the time,” she says. “Now, more than ever, we need design thinking to come up with solutions we haven’t tried before.”

Simon’s steps for design thinking consist of five. The first is empathize. Eddins says this is where as much knowledge is gathered as possible in order to have a deep understanding of the situation. Basically, anyone at this stage should set aside their own preconceptions to get more insight into the customers’ and users’ wants and needs.

From there, the process moves to step two: defining the problem. Eddins is quick to point out that problem is a general term that doesn’t have to be negative. As a graphic designer, she could influence her clients’ products with designs that use her favorite colors and fonts, but that’s not what the client wants.

“Basically, create the problem statement,” Eddins says. “This leads you to novel solutions, different solutions than what you had before.”

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Once that is finished, move on to ideation, which is another word for brainstorming. The goal in this step is to generate ideas, tons of ideas. This step works best with multiple people for different perspectives. Maximum input is necessary, so it’s important that nothing is left out for fear of judgement.

“Wait until everything has been shared until you start to pare them down,” Eddins says. “It usually starts from the absurd to more realistic. The goal is to find that sweet spot in-between.”

Step four is trying some of the ideas, now called the prototype, which leads to step five where the idea is implemented and evaluated. While Simon’s method ends there, variants of his process have evolved over the years. Eddins herself has added a sixth step, which she calls deploy.

“The idea has to sink or swim,” she says. “Just because it’s what you’ve decided to use doesn’t mean it’s the right solution. You’re still gathering feedback. It’s a continual process.” That could mean going back to the drawing board and starting again or making subtle changes to the original idea that pleases everyone. Eddins is quick to point out that starting over isn’t a bad thing.

“The whole process is a learning experience,” Eddins says. “The steps are nonlinear, meaning they can occur at the same time and be repeated as often as necessary until you find the solution that works.”

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