March 26, 2018

Design Thinking: A Manual for Innovation

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SoDA is thrilled to welcome Demian Borba as a faculty leader at 2018 SoDA Academy. Demian is product developer and design thinker currently applying his superpowers to Adobe XD, a class-leading digital product that helps creative teams prototype, design, iterate and collaborate more quickly, efficiently and effectively.  

Demian will lead an interdisciplinary session on April 10th at The SoDA Academy: Fail Fast to Succeed Sooner - Design Thinking and Rapid Prototype Development Workshop. In this post, he shares his perspective on design thinking and what he learned in applying these principles to the development of Adobe XD. 

What if there were a formula to create innovative products, experiences or services? I’m not talking about incremental improvements; I’m talking about disruptive innovation.

If you’re skeptical. that’s understandable. I was when I began my research on the science behind innovation many years ago. The truth about innovation is that it’s all about people. At the end of the day, we’re people creating things for people.

Design Thinking is a process or method developed by IDEO and taught at the Institute of Design at Stanford. It involves massive collaboration and frequent iterations with distinct phase: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.

The end goal of the Design Thinking process is to create a product, service, or experience that people want (desirability), has real potential to become useful (viability), and can easily or conveniently be built in terms of technology (feasibility).

It’s important to stay focused on one phase at a time. And iterate fast.


Phase One: Empathize

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to start “seeing” things through his/her eyes. This phase includes three key components.

1.     Interviews

It’s important to wear an anthropologist’s hat during interviews and stay neutral. Even if you think you know the answer, ask why. A good strategy to execute interviews is to establish rapport, a strong connection with the interviewee, instead of influencing the answers. Seeking stories is a very powerful technique that can give you a lot of valuable information. 

2.     Observation

Give your user a task and just watch. If you ask, “Do you have issues buying things from Amazon?”, you will probably hear, “No, it’s very easy to buy things there.” But if you watch a person using it from behind their shoulders, you will see pain points along the way.

3.     Experience

Use what your customer uses. It can be your own product, or it can be a competitor’s. This will give you direct access to the pain points and feelings of enjoyment your users experience.


Phase Two: Define

After building empathy, it’s time to revisit the initial design challenge and re-define the problem.

To define, or re-define, the problem or challenge, a point of view (PoV) formula can help: PoV = persona + need + insight.

Needs are emotions and depth. Insights are surprises, interview findings, observations, contradictions, and can be used in the solution. When you use this human-centered approach of searching for a real need, you have a competitive advantage.

I love the phrase, “Design Thinking is more need finding than problem solving.” So, be a need finder!


Phase Three: Ideate

After building empathy and re-defining the challenge, problem or need, it’s time to put our brains to work. The Ideation Phase has two clear sections:

1.     Diverge (Create Choices)

The same multidisciplinary team who built empathy and re-defined the problem, gets together during a pre-specified time frame to “vomit” ideas without any judgment! Why? Because by focusing on quantity we quickly leave obvious solutions behind and enter the unknown where true innovation can be found. 

2.     Converge (Make Choices)

With a ton of ideas to choose from, the team gets to select which they will work on. A good technique is voting with stickers: each team member gets a set of stickers and individually each team member marks the ideas they would like to work on. After this process is complete, it’s easy to democratically select the top ideas.


Phase Four: Prototype

“A prototype is worth a thousand meetings”is a saying at IDEO.

Let’s build to think and to feel. A prototype transforms an idea into something tangible and “experiment-able”. There are three stages in this phase:

1.     Inspiring — “What could it be?”

2.     Evolving — “What should it be?”

3.     Validating — “What will it be?”


Phase Five: Test

When prototypes are created, test them with real people. We test to refine prototypes and solutions, to learn more about the user, and to test and refine our PoV.

When testing, let users play with your prototypes, watch and listen. If small tweaks are easy to make, do them and test again. Get close to your users and most importantly, never fall in love with your ideas.


In Conclusion

Design Thinking is a method or process that starts with a design challenge, moves to the empathy phase (interviews, observation or experience), then to definition (or re-definition) of a problem or challenge, embraces ideation (diverge first and converge later), uses prototypes (build to think and learn fast) and continues with testing.

For Adobe XD, we believe if we keep listening, thinking, creating, validating, learning, and always being open and transparent that we’ll end up with the right amount of customer value and we’ll create a solution that designers love.


This article has been excerpted and republished, with permission, from a piece originally released on Medium. You can read Demian’s full article here.

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Demian Borba

Strategic Development Manager, Adobe XD

The SoDA Academy will be held at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York on April 9-10, 2018. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to learn from and alongside some of the best and brightest in the industry. Request an invite today.