Design Thinking is only half the story

TEAMS Design

By Paul Hatch

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Image for post
Photo Credits: TEAMS Design

Design Thinking has permeated its way into forward-thinking businesses around the world, an allied tool of the designer was left untouched; Design Vision.

We think of ideas as thoughts; strings of words connected with rationale, and we try to articulate these to others. But it’s inherently difficult to describe that vision in a way that is compelling so that others see it the same way.

Enter the designer. Typically, designers are not wordsmiths but nevertheless have a superpower in communicating their ideas in a visual way. You may have already noticed how designers often can’t help but sketch out their ideas -this form of ideation is not just an output of ideas, it’s a two-way conversation between the designer and the paper.

The method is cyclic; the initial idea is generated in the frontal lobe, gets sketched, then viewed and reenters the brain in the emotionally-driven limbic system which triggers new associations based upon the visual input, leading to an improvement or a whole new idea.

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The advantage of the quick visual is that it conveys so much more than words could do. It can also be interpreted different ways, which is why it inspires new thoughts. The looser the sketch, the more lateral the inspiration will be. The ‘sketch’ in question can be paper and pen, digital, or even physical mockups, just whatever way the particular designer is more comfortable ideating with.

As each idea is sketched it seemingly ‘frees up space’ in the brain to create a new perspective. Once a few ideas have been sketched the designer can then reflect on the ideas using a very fast ‘compare and contrast’ method which draws yet further inspiration. There is even a moment of retrospection on the ‘old’ ideas being seen in a new light because the train of thought has already moved so far ahead.

So while Design Thinking propagates the methods traditionally used by designers -empathy, curiosity, ambiguity and divergent thinking, the ability to rapidly gestate and iterate through visualization has been left off the table in many organizations.

Interestingly, the use of Post-its in Design Thinking is actually a stopgap measure for some of the sketch-driven methods described above. The compactness of the Post-it forces participants to capture their thoughts very succinctly, which leads to ambiguity to onlookers and therefore creates an inspiration effect similar to how a loose sketch would. The laying-out of the Post-its aids us to ‘compare and contrast’ and helps us find patterns or gaps that can lead to further concepts.

The Post-it is a weak substitute for the real thing. Sketched visuals complete the inspiration circuit within a split second, and this speed is critical to reach a creativity flow state (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) — or ‘getting into the zone’ as an athlete would call it.

So while Design Thinking is a tool for everyone, be sure to engage your designer or design partners in the ideation and at the very least, allow them to use the super large Post-its.

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Originally published at on June 21, 2016.

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