Think better not harder

I need to give it some more thought.

I need to think harder. 

Where do I even start ?

Do you ever tell yourself these things ? Are you oftentimes confronted with a task seemingly so complicated that you do not know where to begin – and can not see the end of it ? 

Did it ever hit you that you might be looking at the problem the wrong way or approaching it the wrong way? What if your thought process is fundamentally erroneous, or at the least renders the task at hand harder than it actually is.

Ideate Better

Ideating better is the trick and Design Thinking is the solution. Design Thinking is a new thinking model, a more “human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” according to Tim Brown. This model can apply to anything – not only concrete designer tasks such as the development of products, but both to your personal and professional life. 

In fact Dr. Luciana Herman, Professor of Public Policy at Stanford University teaches Aspire alumni Design Thinking within one of her Aspire seminars. Dr. Herman is most qualified to teach this course given that Stanford is indeed the birthplace of design thinking.

So what is Design Thinking exactly ? Simply put, “an articulation and codification of the creative process that drives all human endeavors”. This process puts human beings at the center of big questions that inherently involve us all.

Key to the thinking process is adopting a “beginner’s mind” and keeping this same openness and curiosity throughout the process by challenging assumptions. Assuming nothing, questioning everything and not discarding any idea. The 3 core activities of design thinking are inspiration, ideation and implementation. Thinking like a designer requires an open and vivid imagination, a mind capable of scouting out problems  and then taking the time to tinker and test and embrace failure at early stages by identifying alternative strategies and solutions. 

Five Phase Model

Institute of Design at Stanford Five-Phase Model. These phases are by no means to be followed in a linear way and stringently – the process mirrors the very openness it calls for.

The five phases are the following :

  1. Empathise 

This goes back to putting the human at the center of the process and noting the importance of empathy with clients, users and customers as a basis for innovative design. A designer approaches user research with the goal of understanding the wants and needs of a human.

  1. Define 

Defining your user’s needs, their problem and your own insights feeds back into empathy as well. This stage is about clarity, focus and definition. It requires collecting all the insights gained and trying to make better sense of the landscape of solutions that you are exploring. Finding common themes and problems – patterns – is an important part of the definition process.

  1. Ideate 

Ideation is idea generation. Ideate by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions. Here, having a diverse team that does not shy from constructive criticism and speaking freely is important. Brainstorming is essential and key to “thinking outside the box”.

  1. Prototype

Prototyping is at the core of the implementation process : turning ideas into actual products and services. This step is all about experimentation : transforming ideas into tangible products.

  1. Test

These are then tested, evaluated, iterated, and refined. Prototyping and testing go hand in hand and one should never be disheartened with failure. Prototypes can speed up the process of innovation because they allow you to specifically target and understand what works and what does not. 

The Aspire Design Thinking Process

During my experience at Aspire in the Aspire High School program in 2019, the design thinking seminar gave all the participants a challenging task : reimagine and reinvent university and design an ideal university bottom up.

In small groups, we had to come up with new values for our university and decide what to advocate for. What courses would be provided, under what format, what teaching style ? Would big lecture-hall classes disappear ? How many teachers would there be ? How many students ? Would these students be put through a very competitive selection process ?

This exercise pushed all participants to review their notion of a ‘university’ and deduce what they specifically wanted from a higher education establishment. Getting to the core of the problem and looking at a ‘university’ as a singular, new and still malleable concept allowed for much broader and open-minded thinking.

By the end of the course, all the participants came up with uniquely challenging universities, each presenting a distinctive bundle of characteristics. This exercise helped many, myself included, to then know what to look for in universities when they began their application processes.

And if you want to learn more about Design Thinking and participate in similar activities – going so far as designing your own life – please apply to Aspire 2022 ! We would be glad to welcome you to our creative, open-minded family!

Leave a Comment