On design thinking “methods”

The Stanford d.school just published a compilation of methods from their recent “bootcamp” workshop for executives eager to learn about “design thinking”. Several Citrix execs also participated in the week-long course, including my boss, with very positive feedback and desire to help push design across the company–yay! A good step in the right direction all around. Yet, we shouldn’t get too carried away by the glorious promise of “methods” saving the day :-) Important to clarify their value…

Methods are tactical and focused on achieving specific tangible results, dealing with some narrow slice of a problem (or particulars of symptoms). Methods are exceptionally diverse with literally hundreds of possible approaches applicable to solve a problem, or uncover critical insights. Stanford has several defined. So does IIT’s d-school in their programs. Methods are necessary and form a powerful toolbox (a quiver of arrows, if you will) for design professionals to tap into when thrown into a unfamiliar, complex situation.

However, methods are only as good as the person(s) applying them with a strategic mind. What do I mean by this? A couple of things:

a) Methods require a “wrapper” of strategy— the product purpose, the user intent, and statement of the functional (and emotional) values– to truly be effective. Else you’re just throwing methods at a potentially highly complex (wicked) problem…no different than throwing people or money at a problem, hoping it works. A scattershot of tactics lacking direction. Having an informed sense of the problem (as a concept brief, for example) helps minimize this issue.

b) Continual practice and iteration of various methods, combined with a deep appreciation for their utility, context, goals, and weakness/strengths leads to the methods becoming something that lives in the back of your mind…a habit of mind, shaping your approach. Indeed the methods, if done well, become a set of lenses that can amplify your view of the problem situation. Addressing the issues becomes natural, habitual, instinctive…and you just “know” what to do (or not do) and when. That’s when the methods become a strategic art, operating as an extension of your ability as a designer–judgment, skills, etc.

Naturally, methods and strategy need each other. Tactical pragmatics of specific problem solving with a focus on specific outcomes PLUS overarching themes/principles/purposes that shape the overall direction for a truly sustained, collaborative effort over time. Therein lies the true power of design thinking for everyone to tap into and benefit, towards solving critical problems.

 

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