Alaska Water and Sewer Challenge

Design Thinking Is...

  • Developing innovative technologies and approaches relying on direct input from users
  • Incorporates constituent insights and rapid prototyping aimed at getting beyond the assumptions that block effective solutions
  • Inherently optimistic, constructive, and experiential addresses the needs of the people who will consume a product or service and the infrastructure that enables it
  • A solution-based way of problem solving, based around the "building up" of ideas. There are no judgments early on in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation in the idea and prototype phases. Outside the box thinking is encouraged in these earlier processes since this can often lead to creative solutions.

"Once the problem to be solved is framed in a way that invites creative solutions, it is time for the design thinking team to discover what people's needs are. Traditional ways of doing this, such as focus groups and surveys, rarely yield important insights. In most cases, these techniques simply ask people what they want. Conventional research can be useful in pointing toward incremental improvements, but those don't usually lead to the type of breakthroughs that leave us scratching our heads and wondering why nobody ever thought of that before.

Henry Ford understood this when he said, "If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said, 'a faster horse'." Although people often can't tell us what their needs are, their actual behaviors can provide us with invaluable clues about their range of unmet needs.

A better starting point is for designers to go out into the world and observe the actual experiences of smallholder farmers, schoolchildren, and community workers as they improvise their way through their daily lives. Working with local partners who serve as interpreters and cultural guides is also important, as well as having partners make introductions to communities, helping build credibility quickly and ensuring understanding. Through "homestays" and shadowing locals at their jobs and in their homes, design thinkers become embedded in the lives of the people they are designing for."

- An excerpt from, "Design Thinking for Social Innovation" by Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt (2nd link below)

60 Minutes interview with David Kelley, co-founder of IDEO who coined phrase, "design thinking." Also discusses the program at Stanford that teaches design thinking.

An article that gives examples of design thinking in use

A TED talk on design thinking

Definition of design thinking

An article that describes the process of design thinking