Repost from my latest article in Koran Jakarta on Innovation & Science column, ed August 18th, 2015. Translated with Google Translate – with (offcourse) my “human” translation for some phrases which were not translated adequately by Google :).

“Thinking like a designer can transform the way you develop products, services, processes-and even strategy” Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO – Innovation & Design Firm

All innovation starts from the mindset

In a room, a few surgeons were seriously discussing and assisted by innovation consultants, IDEO. They wanted to develop a tool for the operation of nasal-sinus surgery. The discussion was getting warmed up when everyone conveys their thoughts, verbally, on how the surgical instrument should looks like. Suddenly, someone of them took some materials and equipments; stationery, markers, tape, and paper clips. Then he seemed to build something of materials and equipments. “Does it look like this?” He said as he showed the results of his handiwork, “As this is roughly the surgical tool we can imagine”. The shape of the ‘sinus surgery tool’ is meant as a gun with holder pipeline and ‘magazine’ channel to facilitate the surgeon to run the operation.

The brief story above gives us an illustration of one application of Design Thinking which is seen how a prototype made instantly to deliver a product that is desired by the user, visually. For sure before this prototype appears, they have lined-stage processes carried out within the framework of Design Thinking, such as brainstorming, focused-group discussion, observation, and others.

Design Thinking has become popular in the last decade. Most people think that because of its name Design Thinking, this is a special activity of the instigators or design enthusiasts. Indeed, at first, the frame work is used by the design firm of product or service in the United States. But, actually, Design Thinking is easily accepted and adapted by various disciplinary backgrounds. One thing, the main link of all parties on Design Thinking, is how to establish a way of thinking to produce innovative solutions, and this can be studied by various groups.

When I describe the Design Thinking is;

a mindset and process to empathize human-centered issues and problems, and then to find collaborative approaches and innovative ideas or solutions through visualization and prototype to solve it

Design Thinking emphasizes the continuous cycle thinking, by providing space for the improvisation continues to empathize-test-failure-success-empathy and so on.

Advantages of Design Thinking

Summarized from many works of literature as well as my experience in organizing training and workshops on Design Thinking, the advantages possessed by Design Thinking compared with other innovations tools are the following:

1. Empathy

The beginning of Design Thinking is EMPATHIZE with the source of the issue or the issues that we, as humans, are facing. To be able to empathize, we need to increase our sensitivity to the various challenges and obstacles faced by our target users, of which we perceived when we want to do something to achieve our goals.

Suppose the problem of public transport in the city is so bad, in terms of services the challenge faced by users is like the issue of timeliness, convenience, and security. So this is our role to be able to understand their difficulties and their desires to resolve the issue.

Sensitivity can be studied through a range of methods including tools; watching and observation, field immersion like ethnographic studies and anthropology, then interviewing the product or service user, and others. Please note that we do not want to jump in to provide a solution, but must truly understand what are the difficulites versus opportunities to generate innovative ideas.

2. Human-Centered

Design Thinking is not focusing on the product or the shape or material. Each Design Thinkers must collide all of his senses and thoughts to the user, who is also human. Again, solving the problem is not focusing on a finished product, but how will the product be used by the user.

Often we get stuck to the product improvement or the product features that we offer to use by the end-user — as per our expectations. But what oppositely happen, the customers or users do not understand our product features, even more, they feel that our features are not useful to them.

And we’ve done a series of market research to determine the product’s features, but still not quite right. Usually, this happens because we are just glued to what was said by the consumer at the time of market research interview.

We ignore the context and circumstances of the user when taking a product to meet their needs. Therefore we must understand human behavior in the context of the situation’s reality, condition, and their environment when faced with a problem. And again we have to really focus on the innovative ideas of our product features to human behavior as users. Focus on the user requires a deep sensitivity and empathy, as described previously.

3. Visualization

Visualization has become one of the major advantages of this Design Thinking. Visualization helps to align the perception among peers and even among functional groups. For example among the research and development people together with the people of marketing, sales, and product design. Each function has a different perception precondition.

Suppose to formulate an innovative feature, part of R & D employees more concerned with the design of material or material that makes these features. Marketing department thinks about how to formulate pricing schemes for new features. When all already have their own picture, in fact, what is imagined is not the same as each other. When we describe an idea to others verbally, what is captured and digested by our speaker may be very different from what was envisioned in his mind.

But if the idea is put in the form of three-dimensional images and strokes, what we meant in the pictures will be understood and imagined by our colleagues. This is where the power of visualization is important to equate our perception about the idea of a product or innovation.

4. Prototyping

In Design Thinking, there is one part that became superiority that makes prototyping or rapid prototypes (rapid prototyping). Having a deep understanding of end user needs as been inscribed in the visualization of innovative ideas. Then we need to bring quickly in the innovative idea into a more concrete and visible, or which we refer to as rapid prototyping.

Prototyping does not have to be in perfect shape. Prototyping tidiness levels go from a low level as in the form of sketches and a rough idea for a product or service, and up to a higher level such as a 3-dimensional model of the features. No maatter how high the levels and forms, what we must consider in this prototyping is that prototyping must be in-the-test to prospective end users.

In the pilot phase, we start from the explanation the intent and purpose of prototyping we’ve created. After that, let it and notice how the prospective end users interact with our prototyping. If there are things that are less fit, it does not matter. Because the shape is still a prototype we still can change and improve it appropriate input seen in the trials.

Where the benefits of Design Thinking is giving us a chance to see how the level of acceptance of a protoype of products or services, as well as a chance to fix it before it is launched.

Process Design Thinking

Many versions of the stages and processes of Design Thinking, depending on its needs. One of the most popular is introduced by IDEO and Institute of Design at Stanford University, a leading design school in the United States.

Design Thinking in their version is translated into 5 modes:

1. Empathize – explore processes and empathize with the issues faced

2. Define – translating the outcome of the process of empathy into the formulation of the challenges faced

3. Ideate – explore the possibilities and opportunities to create innovative ideas

4. Prototype – bring in innovative ideas into a form that can be tested.

5. Testing – testing of a series of ideas results in the form of prototypes


The video below is taken from a movie “Patch Adams” footage which showing a scene where the protagonist applies the design thinking methods on solving a healthcare problem.


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