Human-Centered Design x Impact Innovation
Our process is highly collaborative and adapted to the needs and circumstances of each client, end user and community. You and your stakeholders are as much a part of this process as we are.
Before we explore, we take in our surroundings and gather our bearings. We want to understand as much as we can as quickly as we can about the opportunities, the needs and the people around us. We dig into existing knowledge and connect with subject matter experts to form some early hypotheses. And we try to Unblink, to intentionally examine our involuntary responses, systemic biases, power structures and any obstacles to creating a positive outcome.
One critical resource we consult during this initial phase is data. Traditionally, Design Thinking processes have not integrated data well, and we believe that a modern design approach must fully integrate data throughout the process. Data can provide critical clues and vital support for an initiative. And just as importantly, data can undermine the success of a project and even become a damaging output of a design approach that neglects to take into account its impact on peoples' lives.
The next step in our process is to fall in love, at least a little, with the people we’re designing for. We meet them, interact with them, observe them and empathize with them. We need to get a feel for what their lives are like and what it might take to make their lives better. Most Design Thinking approaches emphasize empathy, which means to feel what another person feels. We approach this phase of our process with humility and respect for the people we're learning from and attempt to include them in the process to the greatest extent possible.
The next step is the most critical of the journey. We unpack all of the findings and feelings of the previous two phases, we group them and sort them to find connections and meaning, and we ask questions about the things we've found. Often we do this with end users or community members as a collaborative endeavor, to co-create the outcome of this stage, our problem question. This is the key question that will guide the rest of the process.
After the Question is clear, concepting is fast, fluid and fun. In this phase, we generate ideas. We convene idea sessions with a diverse group of thinkers and use research-backed techniques to generate both a quantity and quality of ideas. Our facilitation methods are designed to ensure that everyone gets a voice and that ideas from disparate viewpoints and varying domains are included. We draw on an international network of subject matter experts and provocateurs who can join the ideation sessions in person and virtually. The outcome of this process is a prioritized group of ideas that we'll take forward into the next phase.
We move quickly from thinking to doing. We quickly make simple, physical and digital prototypes and get them into the hands of our users and communities. We get feedback fast, so we can iterate, and more importantly, so that we can . . .
As we take our ideas into the world, we do so with an important mindset. We aren't just trying to refine the ideas so we can launch them. Every iteration is a chance to learn more about the people we're designing for. It's a chance to uncover a new insight that may change the idea, lead us in a better direction. A heathy dose of humility is important in this phase, as learning can often uncover assumptions that were unjustified. But through the learning process, the team becomes not only better able to make this idea successful, they gain increased capacity to execute new ideas that improve impact throughout the organization.
The Design Thinking community is incredibly generous with its time, talent and knowledge. I am grateful to many people who have helped inform and guide me as I continue to develop my own innovation practice. I recommend checking out some of the following Design Thinking resources.
Greater Good Studio
George Aye and Sara Cantor Aye and their team at Greater Good have created an amazing studio using Design Thinking for social good.
Creative Reaction Lab
Antionette Carroll, founder of Creative Reaction Lab in St. Louis, has done terrific work in adapting Design Thinking for diversity and inclusion. Download their Equity-Centered Community Field Guide.
John's book Think Wrong encourages Design Thinkers to Be Bold and to do work that matters. I'm lucky to have John and the new Think Wrong Institute close by.
Dean founded Datascope, a data science studio that was acquired by IDEO. His writing and thoughts about data as a medium of design have had a big influence on me.