This month we are very pleased to have Sarah Bloomer from the US in New Zealand. She has 20 years of design experience under her belt and was one of the founders of The Hiser Group that pioneered User-Centered Design (UCD) in Australia. Our Auckland-based director, Shailesh Manga, took the opportunity to ask her a few questions while she was in the country.
Sarah, while you have been in New Zealand I have heard you talk about Design Thinking. What is that and how is that different from typical design?
Design is problem solving, it’s not simply about styling and look. Designers, broadly speaking, explore a design “problem” by looking at many possibilities, while engineers look immediately for a solution. At the consulting company I started in Australia, The Hiser Group, we taught our consultants to explore and validate different designs. We taught our engineers not to jump to solution mode, but to let the design evolve. “That’s good, but we don’t want an answer yet,” we’d tell our clients when they’d say “I know how we can do it!”
We didn’t realize it then, but we were engaged in “Design Thinking.” When Design Thinking is applied, the problem is reexamined and often reframed. That is, the problem originating the need for design may be discovered to be the wrong “problem”. When NASA needed a pen that could write in outer space, they had an enterprising individual spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours designing a pen, the ink flows without the aid of gravity. The actual problem was to provide a tool for writing in outer space. The Soviets solved it by using a pencil. No gravity required.
In increasingly competitive markets, organisations are looking to innovate to differentiate themselves. What does design thinking have to offer here?
Innovation comes from seeing things differently. Design Thinking welcomes all ideas without judging them good or bad, feasible or crazy. At its broadest definition, it is the ability to put many ideas together to create something new. Design mash-ups. It’s seeing opportunity in a crowd of issues, problems and goals. It’s allowing ideas to evolve and bubble up without jumping to solutions, as engineers have been trained to do. New ideas come from research, analysis and synthesis. Innovative ideas do not generally emerge Athena-like from the head of a few great designers. All designers can innovate. In fact the role of design in organisations needs to grow.
You have also mentioned that the idea of Design Thinking is not actually new and that it is closely aligned with what user experience practitioners call User-Centred Design. Can you elaborate on this connection?
Roger Martin wrote:
“Great designers seek deep understanding of the user and the context, which entails consideration of many variables.
They don’t limit their considerations to aspects that can be thoroughly quantified. They worry less about whether they can replicate a particular process — and more about producing a valid solution to the problem before them.”
There are many ways to gain “deep understanding of the user and the context”. One of the most effective is, of course, UCD, our area of expertise. Like Design Thinking, user-centred design is an approach, a way of finding design solutions. More importantly, UCD is also a set of techniques. User-Centred Design may have come out of the field of interaction design, software design and web design, but today UCD is being appropriated by all sorts practices: process design, industrial design, service design even business design.
Design isn’t a free-for-all-it requires a process or set of stages to enable design to happen, repeatable process and a set of tools and techniques. Adopting User-Centred Design is a good place to start, regardless of what is being designed.