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What is Design Thinking and how is it linked to Service Design?

My first theoretical impression of it.

Creativity and user centric solutions don't come so easily to many organisations. To solve idea blocks like this we must first understand the basics of design thinking. It can provide you with user oriented, result oriented innovation for product, services and businesses alike.

Design thinking, being a holistic, integrated process whereby diverse bodies of knowledge converge on a given subject, is poised to use technology as a vehicle for reviving the liberal arts’ mission. 

If you are envisioning your product, service or business to flourish and be the first choice of the town in future, this topic of design thinking touches it all. Design thinking, being a holistic, integrated process whereby diverse bodies of knowledge converge on a given subject, is poised to use technology as a vehicle for reviving the liberal arts’ mission.  How can it do that?  To answer that question I’ll have to try to make sense of a difficult concept.  According to Buchanan, John Dewey defined technology not as the “knowledge of how to make and use artifacts or the artifacts themselves, technology for Dewey is an art of experimental thinking.  It is, in fact, intentional operations themselves carried out in the sciences, the arts of production, or social and political action.”  The artifacts, or computers, phones, political science, etc., are not technology per se, but the fruits of technological thinking.  The object is a manifestation of a convergence of art, science, sociology, anthropology, and any number of disciplines.

Buchanan explains how this concept plays out in contemporary life in different areas.  The works of graphic designers, industrial designers, managers, and architects have traditionally understood roles, but each have expanding meanings that touch human experience in multifaceted ways.

He gives an example of graphic designers communicating ideas through "synthesis of words and images". Also, industrial design "has expanded into more thorough and diverse interpretation of the physical relationships between products and human beings."

Next he explains how managers have eschewed logistics for their own sake, in favour of “making such experiences more intelligent, meaningful, and satisfying."

The last area of design mentioned is architecture. Though I wouldn’t say I have anything close to a deep understanding of the concepts presented in this essay (Reference 1 from the list below), it does touch on something I’ve been thinking of for a few years.  It’s my hope that design can emerge from a zeitgeist of specialization which eradicate nihilism.  History, theory, philosophy, art, and religion have become disjointed, disassociated subjects without enough bearing on what we should know and what we should do.  All too often they’ve become what we should know, for a few weeks, so we can pass a test, get good grades, and get a good job.  If design thinking can serve as a catalyst for bringing together the arts (thousands of years of human development), it may be a building block for cultural focus and fulfilment.

Design thinking is the process with help of which designer’s can help us extract, teach, learn and apply these human centric techniques to solves problems in innovative ways and find ways where others got lost and never found a way back.

Understanding the complex and sometimes puzzling field of design practices is hard in itself than searching for the common ground to make generalisation of the process. I said hard not impossible and thats exactly what design thinking is. Design thinking is a concept, a process or a structure which no matter which stream of design or technology you come from, if you implement it the right way you will reap fruits.

"We moved from thinking of ourselves as designers to thinking of ourselves as design thinkers. We have a methodology that enables us to come up with a solution that nobody had before." -- David Kelley

The first step to understand this thinking process is the reason behind every design. The core which will help us in this aspect, is the logic. This logic can either be inductive (which gives you context of discovery and this is how hypotheses are formed) or deductive (which aides to critical experimentation of the discoveries). Then there is the third type of thinking logic, abductive thinking. The first of this logic is what Mr. Dorst calls Abduction I, this is usually associated with conventional problem solving. Here we know both how and the value and we are in search of what. The second of Abduction logic is Abduction II, where we only know the value we want to create and are in search of what and how. This need to establish two unknown identities in search of the value leads to design practices and products which are completely different from what already exists and the Abduction I logic. This practice is very much associated with design (Roozenburg & Eekels, 1995).

When we start solving the design problem in the Abduction II model, the designer finds frames which suits the best to give the required results or value. Once a promising and credible frame is proposed the designer can move forward to Abduction I model, designing a thing that will allow to complete the equation. The next step is reasoning forward with deduction. Until this point the frame proposed is still just a proposal and not a definitive concept.

Experienced designers are seen to ponder more on the central paradox and asking what makes this problem so hard to solve. Once they get the answer to this question the rest becomes easy for them. These paradoxes are never dealt head on but are addressed in form of issues around it.

Lets take an example, At New Year’s Eve in Milan there is big a concert and final countdown at Piazza del Duomo. During this time the trams and buses from Duomo are re-routed (and only work till 2:00 am) and all the metro stations in and around the area are closed and resume operations the following morning. That leads to frustrated people, crowd all around the bus stands where no bus or tram is coming. To avoid this chaos, a designer took an initiative. Signages were put up at strategic spots to guide the attendees to locations from where they could avail public transportation to different parts of Milan.

Design thinking has been most recognised by the organisations having troubles dealing with open, complex problem situations, this is where the way design practices deals with the frames and theme in context of abductive reasoning should be particularly useful. How is it linked to Service design? As mentioned in my other blog "What is Service Design", it is all about understanding your user needs and co-creating with them to give them a foolproof solution. A service or product which solves their needs, needs they didn't even realise they had.

Design thinking is an iterative process of understanding the user problems and challenges whereas service design is the way of implementing these methodologies to get tangible or intangible products.

To conclude design thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand not just the problem statement or challenges but also user targets to find alternative or sometimes completely new strategies and services or products. Whereas service design is the way of implementing these methodologies to get tangible or intangible products that makes the difference.

In the next blog we will discuss more about the phases of design thinking process.

Was this helpful? Let me know in comments below.


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