Since before the advent of the computer, people have been addressing complex problems using Design Thinking, its principles founded in the fields of architecture and industrial design. Now many organizations adapt the methodology to address problems as complex as machine learning applications and enterprise IT solutions. Different organizations implement Design Thinking in various ways, but commonly follow the guiding principles of a human-centered research, involving cross-functional representatives, and with a focus on prototyping.
At SoftServe, we have defined our Design Thinking framework into five steps, called Learn, Interpret, Ideate, Experiment, Evolve.
Team members progress through these modes of working over the course of a project, sometimes shifting back and forth nonlinearly depending on the immediate needs. The framework is primarily a guideline to aid teams to structure their own approach based on best practices. To make the steps more memorable, we symbolize each one using a simple shape.
The first mode of working is called Learn and is symbolized by an expanding triangle (think of a beam of light spreading out, searching the surroundings for information). A team in learning mode is exploring in all directions to rapidly research the problem and its surrounding context. The team objectively gathers unbiased information to later analyze. Projects typically begin with a research phase, staffed with a lean team of experts from areas such as design, solutions, and engineering—each viewing the research from a different lens. The research team is responsible for collecting the raw observational data to inform the creative process.
The focus of the Interpret mode is to synthesize takeaways from the raw research data. We symbolize it with a square (think of putting things back in the box, drawing boundaries around what is important, and what isn’t). The research team will typically unpack all field documentation, spreading it out in a physical or virtual workspace. We comb through interview transcripts, review photos and video, and begin to highlight patterns. The Interpret mode is essentially an exercise in structuring meaning out of neutral data. The end goal is to have a unique and valuable point of view based on the research observations.
Ideation is creative thinking in action, and it’s symbolized with a forward-facing arrow (think pushing a play button or shooting an arrow). Now that the team has validated problems, they can start to brainstorm solutions in earnest. They generate new ideas—that didn’t exist before—to fuel the creative work. At SoftServe, we emphasize participating with stakeholders and end users, to capture genuine suggestions grounded in context. The cross-functional participants may use several ideation methods, such as brainwriting, solution sketching, and future-state journey mapping.
The Experiment mode is symbolized by a circle connoting the cyclical prototyping process. For the design process to achieve results, prototypes should be made early and often, to rapidly validate the assumptions. We only put in enough detail for it to be tested, so that the project doesn’t burn too much time and resources before identifying early design flaws while learning from the mistakes. Working in tight cycles of prototyping and validation lowers the risk of project failure by keeping the designs rooted in human-centered testing.
After experimentation sufficiently lowers risk, projects must shift into Evolve mode to develop real, significant results from the concepts (think of a circle evolving into a more complex hexagon). Experts can now elicit requirements, and plan for development. The design artifacts provide context, and enable the development team to empathize with end users. Design remains integrated in the agile development process, the team working in cycles to prototype, test, and build the feature set, so that every decision brings value to the users and business.
Design Thinking celebrates ingenuity and progress, and at SoftServe we have adapted the guiding principles into a framework that works for our demanding software development projects. The five modes—Learn, Interpret, Ideate, Experiment, and Evolve—provide a structure for planning an approach suited to unique project needs.