Design Thinking Methodology
This work is part of a design thinking process—a philosophy and approach for solving wicked problems that supports a deep commitment to human-centred outcomes. At its most fundamental, design thinking is an empathy-fueled, iterative process, that evolves solutions through prototyping and testing until the solution fits the needs of the stakeholders involved. Throughout its process, it holds the needs and experiences of the people experiencing a problem or service at its core, whether they’re service users, providers, or system-level decision makers.
A wicked problem is a term that designers and social problem solvers often use to describe problems that are particularly resistant to resolution, require the re-evaluation of traditional systems and approaches, and often reveal new problems as progress is made. It’s often difficult for the stakeholders involved to come to agreement on the problem, its causes, and the best way to move forward. For example, homelessness, belonging, and gender equality are wicked problems.1
Design thinking grew out of traditional design industries such as industrial or graphic design, and its value has become well recognized for addressing complex social problems.2 It was popularized by the d.school at Stanford University,4 and by the global design firm, IDEO.4 It transplants the philosophy and approach a designer might use to design the look, fit, structure and feel of a chair, to reimagining the look, fit, structure and feel of a service, system, or other experience. The design of a chair could feel overly simplistic in contrast to a service, but in essence, it requires the designer to consider how it will be used, by whom, what problem it’s solving, in which context it will be used, how it will be produced, and many other factors. These questions are equally valuable in the context of addressing complex social problems.
Design thinking is also highly scalable—while enabling the exploration of hard, complex systems, its process can also be fast and simple. Design thinking can be used to create and implement everything from a national healthcare system to an invitation for a child’s birthday party.
Design thinking pushes what people think is possible by facilitating the development of unique and highly useful solutions to wicked problems. Meanwhile, it is also highly practical because it asks practitioners to understand a situation from multiple perspectives and find solutions that will actually work in reality. It recognizes the importance of the experiences and needs of the end/service user, while holding the realities of service providers and system constraints as equally valid. While aiming to improve the service user experience, this approach allows practitioners to match the needs of all stakeholders with solutions that are both desirable for the user and feasible for the service or system.
This work is inherently collaborative, working with end/service users and key stakeholders to explore the problem, and is often a transformative experience for all involved. It embraces ambiguity, messiness and holistic thinking throughout the process—resulting in an investigation that is based in human-centred evidence. It is highly agile and iterative—every insight into the needs of the end user is fed directly back into decision-making.