Episode #30: Say You'll Empathize
Design thinking can work with language, too.
April 28th celebrates a birthday of a best friend - we’ll call him “D”. D does branding and corporate design. One of the things he’s taught me, and one of our touchpoints over numerous conversations, explores the connections between rhetorical thinking and design thinking.
Design thinking is a process based approach to problem solving that relies upon connecting with users, prototyping, testing, and continual ideation.
What I love about design thinking is that it offers an alternative model to the scientific model (they are not mutually exclusive, btw) and emphasizes the playful nature of testing concepts, getting feedback, and giving it another go.
Additionally, a particular focus of design thinking looks at ways to empathize with the user or customer. It’s a neat way to let go of our own biases and focus on the perspective of others (a key aspect to fostering productive conflict, FYI).
Consider a problem you’re facing in your life and apply design thinking to see if you can’t loosen up your mind.
Design Thinking’s 5 Stages
Empathize: Set aside your own assumptions and try to gain empathy with the problem and the people involved with that problem.
Ask: What experts can you speak with to gain a better understanding of the issue? Who can you speak to that interfaces with the problem on the regular? What can you learn about their motivations, needs, and experiences? How can you immerse yourself in that problem space (if you do not face this problem) so that you have a common ground to work from?
Define: Use your inroads to empathize with the problem and the people involved in that problem to name the issue. Write this out in concrete terms.
Write: Do not skip the definition stage. You need to see the problem spelled out in a complete sentence. “Confusion” is not a defined problem. “We need to make our product options less confusing for customers on the webpage” is more concrete, more useful, and involves actual humans in its wording. Strive for specificity. Revise as needed.
Ideate: Yay! We use this word in rhetoric, too. Ideation is the process of generating ideas. There are so many types of methods out there — whiteboarding, post-it notes, and most frequently brainstorming.
Apply technique: Find a framework to give a little structure to your ideation. Frameworks can include worst possible idea, post-it notes, whiteboarding, or free-writing. Google for more examples of structured ideation. The key is to not have your ideation process strategy be “I will let my mind to wander aimlessly.” Help guide your mind’s wanderings through the maze by putting up some walls.
Prototype: Make a “strawman” draft of your new product, service, or feature. It’s said to be a strawman because it’s made of straw—you get the gist of the shape and feel but it is by no means the full package—it’s a semblance of what was produced during ideation.
Know the goal: The goal of prototyping is not perfection or stunning aesthetics. The goal is to create a testable model. Identify the variables you want to test, make sure those elements are in your prototype, and then let go of your need to complete a finished and stunning product - that is forthcoming.
Test: The fun part begins where you put your prototype out into the wild. Have plan to collect feedback — ask questions that speak to the problem as you defined it earlier.
Use the data: Testing shapes everything else. It tells you if you need to repeat the process (likely) and at what stage. For example, maybe you discovered that you hit the problem on the head definitionally, but need to make another prototype.
Design-thinking is non-linear so you might find yourself starting at various stages when you sit down to problem solve.
As a form of productive conflict, design thinking gives us a method to remove our fragile (but none-the-less important) egos and assumptions, which may be wrong or not useful, and instead focus on other people and the ways in which those people struggle with problems and how you might design a novel solution to those problems.
Those people with problems may be your customers, your colleagues, or even your community.
Foster productive conflict by drawing upon design thinking to find creative and experience-driven solutions.
for more resources on design thinking: