Design thinking: why it fails and tools you need to know


Picture: Design thinking: why it fails and tools you need to know
Design thinking pitfalls & tools to get started

The phrase Design Thinking is one of the most used phrases in the creative industry. In fact, the Design Thinking process is now like a doctrine for many designers and developers. Today, some of the biggest brands in the world including Microsoft, Apple, Toyota, Pepsi, and a lot more are milking this process to create innovative and usable solutions for their customers and clients.​


What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is the user-centric process involved in developing solutions to user needs. This process involves getting to understand the User, finding the facts, identifying the challenges, and creating solutions that are usable, visually appealing, and technologically feasible.


The point of the entire process is to make the User experience topnotch while navigating through the product. This is achieved by studying the user to understand their pain points, organizing brainstorming sessions to conceive ideas that work and testing or implementing the said ideas.


However, the Design Thinking process is not only applied during the creation of new products. It can be used to improve already existing products in situations where there are unfamiliar problems, a new level of knowledge or fresher ideas.


The Design Thinking process according to Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design, Stanford is made up of five stages namely, Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. For a better understanding, read this article where we break down the five stages of Design thinking.


Nevertheless, it is important to note that the order in which the stages are arranged is not cast in iron. As explained in our earlier article on misconceptions in Design Thinking, the design thinking process is not linear. Oftentimes in the process of product development, these phases do not follow each other in a specific order and can occur at any given time due to iteration purposes.


Why Design Thinking is Important Today

Over the years, organizations like Brave Achievers, Pepsi, Airbnb, UberEATS, and Apple through innovation have grown their brands into positions of authority in their various niches. To maintain this status, they have achieved and even pushed themselves up a notch in the market, there is a need to continually innovate, and this is where Design Thinking comes in.


Design thinking has been credited with a whole lot of positive disruptions going on in the business world. One popular example of this is how it transformed Airbnb from a failing startup in 2009 to a multibillion-dollar business today. Such is the story of many other brands thriving today.


75% of organizations self-report that they practice Design Thinking. 71% of those organizations confirm that it has improved their working culture on a team level.


Because the Design Thinking Process is User-centric, it helps to eliminate assumptions and waste of resources as designers can focus more on understanding the user pain points and improving on products based on the user's opinions and feedbacks as well as the product performance.


Aside from fostering empathy, the Design Thinking process is also always essential in breaking down complex problems with the help of practical sessions like ideation sessions where myriads of user-centric ideas are birthed and prototype testing sessions where the target Users who are the most impacted get to validate or invalidate design decisions based on what they want.


It also creates room for collaboration, both within the organization and with their customers and clients as well. This kind of collaboration is usually an on-ramp to an array of creative ideas which could in turn result in innovation.


Why Design Thinking Fails

Design thinking is no longer limited to the design industry. It is now the toast of organizations across all industries and creatives in such organizations where it has been adopted latch on to it for problem-solving purposes.


However, the popular assumption that Design Thinking prescribes a very linear and codified way of getting around problems stifles creativity in the iteration process and can sometimes lead to subpar results.


Below, we highlight some other reasons why Design thinking may not work optimally on some occasions.


Misconceptions in Design Thinking

There are a whole lot of misconceptions in Design thinking and these misconceptions have negative effects on the expectations and outcomes of the process itself.


One of the most popular ones as cited above is that a lot of people see the five stages of Design thinking and think it is a linear process. It is not. Design Thinking is an iterative process and sometimes, the result of point A does not eventually lead to point B and other times the process could even begin from the last point. It all depends on what the objective is. The disadvantage of thinking of the process as a linear one is that there is usually a waste of time and other resources and the outcome of such a traditional process is always a traditional result.


Assumptions and Biases

The goal of Design Thinking is to challenge assumptions, biases, personal beliefs and in some cases stereotypes. This is because Design thinking thrives on verifiable facts. However, it can be difficult to achieve this with a team of experts who have been iterating on a product over time.


Having a team member who concludes that users do not like a particular color and style is a case in point. Swallowing such opinions hook, line and sinker can have a damaging effect on the result of the design thinking process. So, it is important to probe and validate them before making decisions


Over-Reliance on Technology

Uber Eats on one of their articles about how they are using design thinking to impact their customer base acknowledged that they cannot utterly understand their user experiences by just sitting in their offices in Bangkok or London. To improve their user experience, they have personnel on ground in various cities who immerse themselves into the culture of their users. This in turn helps in understanding user pain points and how to meet the users need better than relying on computer generated figures.


One of the stages of Design Thinking is Empathizing and this can only be carried out properly by having firsthand contact with the users for whom the design is been done. Relying on computer generated data, phone calls, emails or e-questionnaires may not do proper justice to the course.


Disregard for Ideas

‘Dweilen met de kraan open. 'Found it difficult to read that? Well, that is not English. That is a popular German saying that translates to ‘Mopping while the tap is running.’ Figuratively, this is what a lot of leaders do during brainstorming sessions, they try to process, filter, and discard ideas while they are still being generated.


Sometimes, the big break in the Design Thinking process usually comes from the craziest of ideas that anyone could have discarded. For instance, who would have thought that just two words ‘Got Milk?’ would get the whole of America drinking milk again and even go on to become one of the greatest Ad campaigns of all time? Ideation sessions should therefore be more focused on generating and collating ideas rather than criticizing and shooting them down or else individuals whose ideas could have become the next massive thing would withdraw to their shells and feel intimidated to contribute.


Lack of Patience and Persistence

There are no shortcuts or quick fixes with Design Thinking. The process itself is usually taxing and demanding and on some occasions, there is no end in sight. In fact, the final process which involves testing is usually not the final. Many organizations are usually not patient enough to hang around till an idea comes into fruition. They would rather go in search of quick fixes, and this is not what Design Thinking is all about. Rather, Design Thinking is focused on digging deep into user-centric needs and providing solutions for those needs one iteration at a time.


Commonly Used Tools in the Design Thinking Process

There are loads of software and applications that have been developed for the sole purpose of making the design process easier. Some of these tools are multipurpose while some others were developed with certain stages of the design thinking process in mind.


In this article, we list the five stages of design thinking and corresponding software tools that can help implement each stage.

  1. Empathize: Zoom, Google Meet, Typeform

  2. Define: Smaply, UXPressia, Zoho CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

  3. Ideate: Stormboard, SessionLab, IdeaFlip

  4. Prototype: InVision, Adobe XD, Origami Studio

  5. Testing: Loop 11, Userlytics, UserbilityHub


Final Thoughts

With the increasing demand for digital experience today, Design Thinking is a solution provider that business leaders are using to drive innovative change in their various industries. But if not implemented the right way, businesses stand the risk of losing a lot of resources and efforts with nothing to show for it.


At Brave Achievers, we empower individuals with in-demand skills necessary for them to become impactful in Tech and Design. You too can begin your journey by joining the waitlist for our next bootcamp.


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