We all want to live in a beautiful, effortless world, where everything works like it was made just for us. It’s not surprising, then, that Design Thinking is having a resurgence.
Great design might solve a problem in a beautiful, simplistic way – the greatest of designs fits seamlessly into our lives, and becomes instantly indispensable. That only happens when you truly understand the person, the problem, and the environment, and that’s what Design Thinking is all about. It’s also what we’ve been doing at Happen everyday for the past 11 years.
At its core, Design Thinking is a highly iterative, human-centric approach to problem-solving that seeks to avoid bias by gathering as diverse a team as possible and questioning everything we thought we knew. In a world where the power of connectivity means people expect services and products to be instantaneous, tailored and personalised, I believe we need this type of approach now, more than ever. We can’t afford to stick to our biases and remain in a design rut.
The basic elements were first put forward by economist and computer scientist Herbert Simon in The Sciences of the Artificial, 1969 – but it has been iterated upon ever since. In my 20 years working in innovation I’ve seen it adapt and evolve, taking from ethnography and sociology, cherry-picking learnings from the worlds of business, technology and science. The approach is as much about learning about people, their behaviour and their environment, as it is learning about our own creative practices and biases as innovators, and actively evolving them. In a very neat, design-oriented way, it’s a perfect circle feeding itself.
Industry is also taking note, and the principles have been applied in healthcare, business and the arts. Tech giant Oracle invested $43 million in the Design Tech High School last year, a place that extolls the five principles of Design Thinking at every stage of learning: empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test. These can be carried out in any order, and align pretty well with the four stages of Happen’s own approach – focus, immerse, reveal, exploit (FIRE).
So what is Design Thinking, really? When most people hear the term, it conjures up images of something sleek and elegant – pared-back Scandi design, elegant chairs and minimalist vases. So simple, so sexy, so… now. Sounds great, right? It also sounds a million miles away from the messy reality of the innovation world I’ve lived and breathed for close to two decades. But what Design Thinking does well, is give us a structure to try and make sense of that chaos.