How Design Thinking Enables Creative Problem Solving

By Guest Blogger Christine Nasserghodsi

Design Thinking at The CribbPeople often think they fall into one of two categories — creative or not.  Although there is a general belief that creativity is a trait that some are simply born with, strategies to enhance creativity can, in fact, be taught. Design thinking is one such strategy, and has the added benefit of helping people develop creativity in a way that increases the impact and reach of ideas. Design thinking is a user-centered approach for problem finding and problem solving that is marked by building empathy, ideating solutions, and rapidly developing and testing prototypes.

So, how does design thinking spark creativity?

Imagine being told to sketch out an idea for a new wallet. You would probably think about your existing wallet, what works well, what doesn’t, and make a few changes. There’s a pretty good chance that those changes would be things you’ve already thought about. On the other hand, imagine being asked to design a wallet for another person…worse yet, someone who says he likes his wallet the way it is! After interviewing this person, perhaps even watching him for a day, you’ve learned that he works a full day and is developing a start-up. He gets frustrated when he’s late but often is. You’ve seen him fumble through different currencies and misplace his cellphone several times. You’ve also noticed that he keeps pictures of his children between business cards and lights up when talking about them. How might your design be different for him? The odds are you would come up with something that hadn’t occurred to you previously.

design-thinking-empathyDesign thinking begins with empathy – developing a deep understanding of a user.

After defining the user’s point of view or need, design thinkers work with a team to explore ways to help the user. Through the use of various constraints, design thinkers ideate broadly and group their ideas in different ways. They select an idea to test and develop a low-resolution prototype to capture their idea. After giving their user a chance to test their idea and capturing verbal and non-verbal feedback, design thinkers make changes to their prototype and continue with testing. Throughout the process, the user remains the focus.

Three years ago, I encountered design thinking as a strategy used by schools to increase their students’ empathy, collaborative and problem solving skills, and willingness to take risks. The benefits to students are clear and it proved to be an instructional approach that was appealing to teachers and students alike.  We decided to take this a step further and use design thinking to address challenges we experienced in the workplace. What resulted were innovative and impactful solutions with a high level of support from staff ranging from a revised lesson observation protocol to a new approach to a school-wide environmental initiative.

Entrepreneurs and big business alike have benefited insights generated through design thinking.

Students in an Design for Extreme Affordability class at Stanford launched the business Embrace, which sells low-cost, portable baby warmers which do not require electricity. The students developed the concept after discovering that the high rate of premature infant mortality was not linked to a lack of available baby incubators, but a lack of ability on the part of rural women to travel to the hospitals in which these incubators are found. Similarly, GE developed a line of child-centered  MRI experiences called the Adventure Series which greatly reduced the number of children requiring anesthesia before undergoing the procedure. These experiences were designed with the help and feedback of children and include park-like and underwater settings. At my most recent workshop at The Cribb in Dubai, one team developed a new concept so interesting that they decided to meet the next day to continue working on it.

Design Thinking workshop at The Cribb

Developing empathy forces you to look at a problem through the eyes of someone else.  Working with a team enables you to be exposed to and build upon the ideas of others. What results is a vastly more creative and impactful process.

Editor’s Note: For more photos from Christine’s Design Thinking workshop in Dubai, visit The Cribb on Facebook.

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About Debra Jennings

Debra Jennings is Director of Storytelling for Innovation 360. She is an innovation tools expert and a contributing author to “The Innovator’s Toolkit: 50+ Techniques for Predictable and Sustainable Growth."


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