I was hosting a roundtable session about design thinking at the business festival The Shift a week or so ago in Turku. Accompanied by a fellow designer and friend Maiju Kinnunen we also promoted the local design and designer association, Uuden Muotoilun Yhdistys. Despite being on stage first thing in the following morning of the main party and in parallel with the keynote speaker the cyborg Neil Harbisson, our workshop gathered a great participation rate.

Inspired by the conversation sprouted during our workshop and on the other hand not being able to share any cool slides from the event I considered writing a post would be a good way to share the information about the session, and even for a wider audience.  The reason for the lack of slides was the non-existing audio-visual presentation capabilities of the old-school (and I mean medieval-old) surroundings of Turku castle cellar.

So, as mentioned, the subject of our 45-minute round table set was design thinking where we focused on the importance of empathy. Yes, my favorite.

The design thinking workshop still waiting for the attendees.

The design thinking workshop still waiting for the attendees.

The squiggly process of design thinking

As much as a mindset, design thinking is a human-centered approach and process for creative problem solving. It involves and empowers the people in the process. Design thinking can be applied to any problem needing solution, or for developing a service, product, process, concept, organization or space. Basically design thinking process puts it briefly how designers work and think. However, when utilizing design thinking, one does not have to be a designer. If you are a major empathizer, embrace experimenting, enjoy creativity and prototyping, you are likely to be a design thinker. If, additionally, you want to improve everything you experience and find this mindset a key to solve all of the problems of the world, you are definitely a design thinker.

The process of design thinking is usually divided into five stages. The starting point of the process is empathy; putting the people in the centre of whatever you are working on. The second stage is about crystallizing the problem that is being solved based on the insights gathered in the first phase. During the third stage new ideas are brainstormed and ideated and then quickly and roughly prototyped to learn if they work and how to improve the best ones. Lastly the ideas are tested with real users. Feedback is collected on the go to find out the solutions that eventually work best.

The fun and hard, even a bit scary, part in the process is that when you start, you don’t know the end result, at all. Also, the process is not really linear but an iterative play where going forward in the process might actually require going back to gather more information before being able to continue. The key is to trust the process and the people. I really like the squiggly process illustration by Damien Newman. In my opinion it perfectly draws the way from the fuzzy beginning to the serene end and I tend to show it each time I lecture about design thinking or service design. I’ve also noticed it convenient to have at hand some more streamlined ones built of circles or squares to make the engineer-type of people feel calmer.

Experimenting with a couple of tools

Back to the roundtable; after breaking the ice with a quick and fun 5-things-in-common game and going through the basics of the theory background as presented above, we did a couple method exercises with personas and customer journeys. Hands-on experience is in my opinion the best way to shed some light on the subject. We started off by crafting the personas based on some pre-set details Maiju and I drafted up in advance. Persona is a fictional profile of the customer or user. It summarizes certain characteristics  but is always created based on real data. (Some time back we blogged about personas (in Finnish) so feel free to go back to learn more.)

The group worked on three different personas; a lady at her 80s, an 8-year old boy and a middle-aged businessman. After sketching up the personas we put together a simple customer journey for a movie theatre visit for each of the personas. Customer journey is a tool to visualize the service experience as a timeline from the user’s perspective. It comes in handy when specifying the pieces of the service is built of, such as the user’s actions, experience and reactions. It also supports in recognizing the possibilities to improve the service.

The groups got very well into the exercise and even in the emotions of the personas during their journeys. The same service we all know was built into three different scenarios depending on the persona and their characteristics or personal challenges. Understanding the initial experience and emotions is important and requires a lot of empathy. The same applies when further on sorting out the room for improvement. This is why designers, instead of assumptions, use empathy-building research and design methods. Gaining deep understanding of the users and the design challenge is what design thinking encourages to as well.

Majame at the Shift

Majame at the Shift

It was a blast!

It was great to be a part of the program at the Shift and even greater to have an active and enthusiastic group of participants at our roundtable. 45 minutes is a time to only scratch the surface of a subject this wide. With more time we definitely would have had a fruitful brainstorming session ahead. Personally, I take the short time as a challenge to make the subject so interesting it sparks a thirst to learn more.

Also, at some point in the future I’ll write a post about how design thinking differs from service design as this was something asked during the roundtable as well. (Well, they don’t really differ, but I’ll write it more comprehensively at a later date.)

Did this post spark something in you? Let me know!

Mari