By Dr. Kendi Muchungi
Design thinking, which is a catalyst for innovation, is a concept that predominantly focuses on people’s needs. This concept, however, is a triage, and also looks at the feasibility and viability of a solution. What exactly is design thinking?
Well, a more formal definition is that it is a paradigm that involves a collection of strategies and tools that can be used to increase the probability and reliability of user-centric ideas. It is a structured approach that focuses on human desire and usage such that products and services that are both feasible and viable are created. This concept was formalized by Stanford University in the 1990s.
The requirements to make design thinking possible begin with a team. It is better facilitated by a group of people who are willing to work together on a specific task and should be able to challenge, motivate, inspire, and contribute different perspectives. Therefore, the dynamics of the team should give room to people from totally different backgrounds and fields so as to further facilitate varied opinions.
The belief is that out of multiple and varied opinions comes nuggets of inspiration and therefore innovation. It is therefore imperative that the individuals who make the team should be passionate, interested and open to other disciplines. The best teams for design thinking do not have a hierarchical organization. All team members are therefore equal participants in the endeavour. The space the team works in should motivate and nurture respect, creativity, and most importantly, be error-tolerant.
From the perspective of a culture that requires excellence and perfection, this is definitely a paradigm shift in how failure is perceived. This perspective further encourages failure, if it happens early in the design of a solution, because it means that there is minimal cost implication associated with the endeavour. This, therefore, leads nicely into the iteration of the process. If one can admit that the initial workings are not perfect and need to be improved or worked on, then this becomes the impetus for growth, creativity, and innovation during the processes of understanding the problem to be solved, finding ideas to solve the problem, and then testing the solutions arrived at.
The processes involved in design thinking are: problem definition, synthesis, ideating for the solution, testing the solution, and then pitching your solution. When defining the user’s problem, you have to come to a shared language of the terms within your team. To do this, you go through the process of analyzing the semantics of the terminology. Once the team has a common understanding of the terminology being used, it is easier to work together towards a shared goal and therefore come up with a single statement that phrases the user’s problem. The next step in defining the problem is to determine the scope the team will work within.
Once this is established, it is necessary to interview the users so as to accurately empathize with them. The best way to go about this is to solicit stories from the users by employing brief and open questions. Regardless, the best kind of questions is driven by a genuine desire to understand the user. Once stories have been solicited, it is imperative to amalgamate them such that the common aspects, likes or dislikes, anything interesting and or surprising, contradictory, and finally, any identified needs are clustered together.
From this information, a fictitious persona representative of the users is crafted so as to rephrase the problem statement with their point of view in mind. With this done, it is easier to brainstorm on how to solve the problem. To do this, we use the ‘How might we …’ method. Once a solution is arrived at, it is necessary to build a prototype so as to be able to test the proffered solution on the potential users. Their input will help us further tweak the solution to the point where we find what works for the user. Once this is done, we then move to pitch the design solution.
Last month, a group of design thinkers [Nikola Energy, Squadra One, Mekatilili, Mideva, GMin, Nairobi Design Week, and The Kijiji] took a group of high school students from State House Girls and Loreto Limuru through the design thinking process to find solutions around the theme ‘Empowering the Mwananchi to be better responsible for their e-Waste’. This saw four teams, The Marshmallows, Notebook, Shakespeare and Snowden coming up with solutions specific to the aspects of reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose e-waste.
Waste here implies electronic devices that are no longer fit for purpose because of either being old or spoilt. Alternatively, they may simply be no longer needed or necessary.Because design thinking is user-centric, E-Waste Initiative Kenya [EWIK], Recklya International, WEEE Africa Forum, and AB3D played a very significant role. These entities being players in the field of e-Waste were part and parcel of the entire design thinking process. EWIK especially, brought e-waste with them so as to accord the students an opportunity to interact with them. All these entities ensured that they were available for questions from the students, who developed solutions for problems they identified from this interaction.