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Design Thinking – Beyond the Breakers

Posted By Liza Carroll, Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Design Thinking – Beyond the Breakers

Design Thinking

Depending upon the source, Design Thinking (DT) is key to innovation in everything from consumer goods to complex social systems, or it’s an overhyped workshop package. Having first been introduced to the concept at QRCA’s 2019 annual conference, and with the idea that others reading this blog might also be new to Design Thinking, I wanted to share more about it. Design Thinking is meant to place those who seek to engage in innovation – often diverse stakeholders – into an uncomfortable space. It should move people past their own biases so they can understand customers’ real needs, and design solutions that work.

The five steps of the process are most often introduced graphically on brightly colored hexagons: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. Activities in the first two steps live in the problem space, and the last three are in the solutions space.  People who understand the ego-threatening implications of these steps point out that practitioners must be willing to manage controlled chaos in seeking the path to making something great.

design thinking

Design Thinking is demanding.  Yet, it is often sold as a quick fix and its core essential stages skimmed. This is why it is disparaged by some designers and others close to it. Consultancies and companies seeking commercial success without committing to authenticity may champion superficial workshops. Some using the process try to make Design Thinking overly linear, misunderstanding the untamed nature of the creativity that lives within its DNA.  

The first step – Empathize – has the most relevance to qualitative researchers — but can also be the most often snorkeled-over by those who don’t have the training or the gear to dive deep. “Empathy is hard!” notes Annette Smith in Is Design Thinking a Silver Bullet for Consumer Research. She explains what we all know better than most: “The ability to empathize without imposing your own cultural values and preconceived notions on a consumer is just not easy to do.” Add cultural difference to the equation, and empathizing is, of course, exponentially more difficult.

Jon Kolko addresses criticism of DT in his article, The Divisiveness of Design Thinking.  He asserts that the real work required during the Empathy step might conceivably be exchanged for 2-hour ‘subject matter expert’ interviews; but in taking such an approach, you may only gain a scratch-the-surface understanding of the business needs at hand. Kolko also examines breakdowns that happen in the other Design Thinking steps. In summary, anyone planning to take on the enormous job of leading others through the process would have to have the ability and experience to guide people toward dramatically reframing a problem by asking more interesting questions and to facilitate rich, meaningful collaboration. I recommend reading Kolko’s article to gain a much deeper introduction to the topic than provided in most introductory articles that stick to defining the steps.

design thinking

Circling back and thinking about Design Thinking’s qualitative heart, it’s interesting that just this month there was a post in the Qual Power Blog by Patricia Sunderland titled When Ethnography Becomes a Joke. In her post, she explains the difference between valuable and degraded ethnographic fieldwork, the methodology that is, as it happens, key to Design Thinking’s Step One – Empathy. Sofia Costa Alves, in her presentation Discover and Deploy Design Thinking described the careful ethnographic work that underpinned the Design Thinking activities she led with participants who were holders of diverse roles in a corporation during her facilitation experience in South America.

Being introduced to Design Thinking, what it can yield when done courageously, and also the ways in which it can be used when thinking “out of the box”, has been a wonderful learning experience. If you would like a list of resources I found valuable for gaining some understanding of Design Thinking, feel free to let me know in the comments or email me at lcarroll@rdteam.com.

Liza CarrollLiza Carroll is Consumer Insights Manager at RDTeam, Inc.

Tags:  design thinking  QRCA Digest  qualitative research  Research Methodologies 

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Applying the Design Thinking Process in Qualitative Research

Posted By Joe Sharlip, Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Updated: Thursday, January 10, 2019
Untitled Document applying design

Design Thinking (DT) is a methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It’s extremely useful in tackling complex problems that are ill-defined or unknown. This is accomplished by understanding the human needs involved, re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, creating multiple ideas in brainstorming sessions, and adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing.

The DT mindset is a natural fit with qualitative research. As Qualitative Researchers (QRs), we are experts at delivering customer experience-based insights. As a sister discipline, DT grapples with the conundrum of how to inspire design, stirring the pot enough to generate fresh new approaches. When QRs integrate DT processes into qualitative research, we reach whole new levels of insight generation.

As a way of educating researchers on DT methodology – and its correlation to qualitative research – it’s helpful to focus on the five-stage Design Thinking model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University.

Stage One: Empathize
In this phase  the DT process aims to gain an empathic understanding of the issue or problem at hand. Empathy is crucial to a human-centered design process, and empathy allows design thinkers to set aside their own assumptions about the world in order to gain insight into consumer-users and their needs.

Stage Two: Define
Now you can put together the information you have created and gathered during the empathize stage. You will analyze your observations and synthesize them in order to define the core problems or issues you and your team have identified to this point – stated in a problem statement that is human-centered in nature.

Stage Three: Ideation
Now designers are ready to start generating ideas. You’ve grown to understand your users and their needs, and you’ve analyzed and synthesized your information to end up with a human-centered problem statement. With this solid background, you can start to ‘think outside the box’ to identify new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, and you can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem.

Stage Four: Prototype
We are now in position to produce a number of inexpensive, scaled down versions of the product or specific features found within the product, so we can investigate the problem solutions generated in the previous stage. Prototypes may be shared and tested within the team itself, in other departments, or on a small group of people outside the design team.

applying designStage Five: Testing
Designers or evaluators are now able to rigorously try out the complete product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. This is the final stage of the five stage-model, but it is also an iterative process where the results generated during the testing phase are often used to redefine one or more problems and inform the understanding of the users, conditions of use, how people think, behave, and feel. In this phase, alterations and refinements can be made in order to rule out impractical problem solutions and deepen our understanding of the product and its users.


Essentially, qualitative research – as DT – is dedicated to a core principal referred to as ‘Stretching.’ Successful facilitation of stretching reaches deep beneath the surface with participants, encourages each of us to become an observer, and challenges the thinking of client-observers. There are a number of powerful benefits stretching can bring to qualitative research and the insights it can reveal:

  • Helping to support and foster creative potential within each person, honoring the leader and the learner in each individual.
  • Bringing disparate voices and teams together, trying out all perspectives and viewpoints.
  • Remaining curious and empathic about stories.
  • Embracing inspiration and ‘gut feelings’ as an equal partner to analytical thinking.
  • Opening doors to creatively imagining ideas, then pulling out all the stops in the search for new views, drawing on limitless possibilities.
  • Not being afraid to fail, and, with this in mind, constantly experimenting in courageous, resourceful, and optimistic ways.

As QR practitioners we must endeavor to be more thoughtful and deliberate about how we embrace the process of exploration. Insight and empathy are critical elements of both qualitative research and DT. The intention of both is to integrate visceral or empathic connections into the process of observing, exploring, coming up with new views, and then taking that next step into designing solutions. The goal is to trigger the imaginations of all involved.  To do this, we can introduce an additional step into the qualitative phases of research in which we engage respondents in the process of designing prototypes, product ideation, or even strategic development.” We can infuse DT tools all the way through our work. The process is iterative, flexible and focused on collaboration between designers and users  with an emphasis on bringing ideas to life based on how real users think, feel and behave. Now, doesn’t this thought capture the essence of what qualitative research is all about?

Sources:
QRCA Views Magazine: Spring 2016 - Toolbox - Villanueva & Koronet - Design Thinking Tools for Qualitative Researchers

Interactive Design Foundation – Article By Rikke Dam and Teo Siang
https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/5-stages-in-the-design-thinking-process


joe sharlip

Joe Sharlip, QRCA Brand Manager
Joe has served in corporate, agency and consulting roles as Director of Marketing and Research, Branding Strategist and Account Planning Director for companies like American Electric Power, Pan American, and Bates Worldwide. He was recognized with a Gold EFFIE, and holds a MBA in Marketing from the University of Connecticut.  You can reach Joe on LinkedIn.


Tags:  design thinking  QRCA Digest  qualitative research 

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Design Thinking Tools for Qualitative Researchers

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Untitled Document

Qualitative research consultants (QRCs) are experts at delivering customer experience-based insight. A sister discipline, Design Thinking (DT) grapples with the conundrum of how to inspire design, stirring the pot enough to generate fresh new approaches. QRCA members Marta Villanueva and Ellen Koronet write that when QRCs integrate DT processes into qualitative research, we reach whole new levels of insight. In their article in the Spring 2016 issue of QRCA VIEWS magazine, Marta and Ellen talked to Ela Ben-Ur, a DT expert and former IDEO team leader, to explain more.

They note that insight and empathy are critical elements of qualitative research and design thinking. The intention of both is to integrate visceral or empathic connections into the process of observing, exploring, coming up with new views, and then taking the next step into designing solutions. This requires tapping into three main modes of expression: Visual, Verbal and Physical.

Read the full article here.

Tags:  design thinking  expression  physical  qrca views  qualitative research  thinking tools  verbal  views article  visual 

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