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  • Writer's pictureGladwyn Lewis

Why Design Thinking is a Lifeline to our world

Design Thinking - As Abstract Art
Design Thinking - As Abstract Art

As the Apple advert goes, "Here's to all creatives, innovators, thinkers, dreamers and most importantly do-ers". In our life as creatives, we coin ourselves with many monikers, "Problem Solvers", "Imagineers", and recently "Design Thinkers".

The transformative power of design thinking

In my life as a creative professional, I've been repeatedly awed and mostly humbled by the transformative power of design thinking, both as a learning experience and from an executional perspective. The power of good design, can transform societies, create communities and foster change in behaviour (sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad). But oddly enough, not a lot of creatives even know that what they are doing is design thinking, and not a lot of them are even aware of how overreaching a role, design can play in our lives.

Design is every day, everywhere.

We all interact with design every day.

It's a part and parcel of the products we use, the apps on our phones, and the signs on our street. But beyond just its physical manifestations, design is a methodology, a way of thinking.

And it's this facet of design—design thinking—that I believe holds the most potent promise for our futures.

Design thinking, for the uninitiated, is a human-centred, solution-focused approach that values empathy, experimentation, and iteration.

It's a mindset that allows us to delve into the intricate labyrinth of human emotions, unravel complex problems, and weave together creative solutions that truly resonate with people.

By placing empathy at its core, design thinking fundamentally shifts our perspective.

A Design Thinking Workshop in Progress
A Design Thinking Workshop in Progress

The fundamental questions yet remain, like "How can we build this?", or "What's the most effective or efficient way to solve this?" It may urge us to inquire a step further, "How does this make our user feel" or "Are there any deeper needs that this solution addresses, if so, what?". And most importantly it enables us to walk a mile in our user's shoes, to immerse ourselves in their experiences, and to make decisions that honour their aspirations and goals.

Today with the advent of AI, from Midjourney to Google Bard and ChatGPT, everything is automated, from the recipes you cook your daily meals from, to the day-to-day mundane tasks your job requires you to perform. We now live in a word that is inherently automated to some routine and is increasingly data driven.

And in such a cold world where you are just a pattern of recognition, a series of tasks, it is very easy to overlook the importance of emotions and to underestimate the power of human feelings.

But let's not forget, we are thinking, breathing and emotive beings. Emotions will always be the undercurrents that form the basis for our actions, shape our everyday decisions and form connections with our fellow human beings.

In essence, they are the invisible threads that weave the tapestry of human life.

And through design thinking, we have the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate these threads, to create solutions that not only solve problems but also touch hearts and inspire minds.

Design thinking should be part and parcel of every designer's way of doing things

Think about the products you've used, or a service you have availed off in the past, that has left a lasting impression on you. More often, it's not the features, or the gimmicks, or the efficient process that you notice, it is always the tiny nuances of human touch, the ones that made you feel heard, noticed, valued and appreciated that you remember fondly.

As Jon Kolko says in his brilliant HBR article, "Design Thinking Comes of Age",

To build empathy with users, a design-centric organization empowers employees to observe behavior and draw conclusions about what people want and need. Those conclusions are tremendously hard to express in quantitative language. Instead, organizations that “get” design use emotional language (words that concern desires, aspirations, engagement, and experience) to describe products and users. Team members discuss the emotional resonance of a value proposition as much as they discuss utility and product requirements.

Design centric organizations don't view emotions as silly or denigrated, they are central to creating emotionally resonant products and experiences that customers rave about.

Design Thinking - A Framework for Innovation
Design Thinking - A Framework for Innovation

Design thinking was earlier used to develop and build physical or digital products, is now being applied to more intangible issues like how a customer experiences a service. This encourages organizations and brands to help build the courage to start looking at things from new perspectives and traverse new territories. Design thinking can also be used to shape narratives, experiences and influence perceptions. But most importantly a culture built on design thinking almost automatically fosters nimble innovation.

To design is to be human

In a 'sea of sameness' with AI tools that enable speed of execution, how does design thinking fare? It's simple really, to design is to be human, and to think like a designer is to embrace our shared humanity wholeheartedly. It's not about just designing for people but designing with people. Also, because design is fundamentally empathetic, it implicitly drives a more human-centric approach to business.

In the words of the legendary designer Dieter Rams, "Good design is as little design as possible." And to me, good design thinking is as human as possible.

The only way to be truly bold is to be incredibly humble.

said Gilbert, who has lead IBM’s design program since 2012. In a world of user outcomes, restless reinvention, and diverse, empowered teams, design thinking is finally receiving the attention that it deserves.

Let us continue to champion design thinking in all we do, not just to create better products, services, and systems, but also to create organizations and a world that is more understanding, compassionate, and kind.

Because ultimately, isn't that what being human is all about?

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