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Design thinking- Creative Problem Solving

Kirjoittanut: Alina Suni - tiimistä Apaja.

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Design is a way of thinking – Herbert Simon. 


Design is too important to leave just for designers to carry out. When talking about design, some may understand it simply the way we see things, as the fonts or colors of anything, but it is much more than that. Design thinking is a method of creative action (Faste 1986). It is a methodology for creative and practical wicked problem solving. But what are wicked and multi-dimensional problems? Those are the ones at the beginning of approaching a problem we don’t have yet a proper knowledge behind it all. That could be decreased sales, less customers etc. That still doesn’t mean that all sorts of problems could be solved with this very methodology. The base with design thinking is in human centered problems. You can ask questions like “Is the problem focused on human values? Is it focusing on the end-users? Does it have high level of uncertainty? Is there data existing already? 

Design thinking isn’t all about building something new. It can be used also to already existing solutions which are needed for improving the customer experience. That’s why the very first step is to go out and ask the customers what they really want. To find out what are their true pains. This will both empathize and define the real problem. With that information we are able to have different premises and ideas to work with. We gather around three best ones and start working on them to build a prototype. After that it is more beneficial to take the validation once again to the ground level. 

A good notion is, that the design of a service needs to be often thought in a different way compared to a product. Say a telephone or car manufacturer; the logo of their company is visible for the user every time they use the product which reminds them of the company. A service provider needs to think this aspect from a different point of view; how to remind the customer of the company behind the service, when it won’t show so seemingly compared to a product? Be it design thinking for a product or a service, a commonly recognized principal to start with should always be the customer and their needs.


Why is empathy so important in DT? 

Without really knowing who or what is our target audience we are not able to know what the target group really wants and needs. Mostly the problems we are trying to solve aren’t ours to begin with. So, without really asking the customers, we are pretty much making assumptions or working from our own desires. These could lead us to the wrong path since we all are looking the world through different kind of filters. To solve a problem or to answer a need, it needs to exist not just to us, but to our customers. 

The filters we are referring to are for example the reasons behind different opinions people have. When asking about having cereals for breakfast, some may answer they are perfect as they are a fast and easy option for hectic mornings. Then again others feel they contain too much sugar and a porridge is a far better choice to start the morning. It all depends on the motivation, needs, pains and the history people have. This is the meaning of the filters. They are the layers we add on a subject or problem we are facing. Finally, even if we get similar answers from multiple customers, they are still not alike. They have their own predictions and habits. So, in order to gain actually reliable and valuable data, the validation process should collect both quantitative and qualitative statistics.

To remove the filters so that we are able to see as clearly as possible, we need to find out the target audience and learn about the way they see things through validation. That is how we can concretely and with certainty empathize and understand how and why they have these kinds of pains and needs. With the understanding we see the world through their eyes, and this enables us to create solutions for them, not just for us. Once we have learned more about our target group, it is time to go back to the problem and refine it once more. After all, gaining all the insights from our possible future customers we might need to make even quite drastic changes to the idea we started off with. 


Why Define? 

Apaja Crew is doing plain, wooden cards where the customer can write greetings, a promise or such and give it as a present to someone. That is the product yes, but what Apaja is really selling, is not the wooden cards. It is selling the feeling of being thought of. To tell the other person that they are important and remembered. Now ask yourself, what is Apaja really doing? They are selling a way to express an emotion of telling others they are important. The problem we first thought “What to give as a present?” turned out to be “How can I express my feelings of value to the other person?” So, going back to the problem again. Does our problem and solution match? Are the wooden cards the best way to answer the need? Through defining the problem, we found out the actual need behind our assumed need.

Another principal is not to validate the problem-solution with customer only, but with any other possible stakeholder that is in co-operation of either planning, producing, marketing, selling, producing or such your product/service. As these stakeholders have a very clear substance knowledge of their own field, they most likely have some insights of certain manners you are trying to implement. They might be able to tell you something will not work before you use hundreds of hours trying to make it work.With the data collected we are able to ideate. A broad search for the solution followed by rational thinking is a good start. It is commonly said that we should be more than 50 ideas for a problem and out of those three should be narrowed for further investigation. How to do it? There are two rules: 

First one – do not write. Visualize, draw, paint, sketch etc. Why pictures? picture gives always some kind of inspiration to do the next one that influences the brain. It is like giving fuel to your mind. 

The next one – Do not sit. You can notice this rule in action when you go to creative spaces. There are no desks or chairs to sit on. Why? You will have more blood and air running to your brains when you move. That’s why you are usually more productive and creative when walking, jumping or stretching. 

When designing a service, take advantage of sequencing. Just like in movies, there are still frames produced in a certain timeline. These frames combined together form a whole movie. Using this method helps you to understand the continuum of your service but also make adjustments here and there rather than having to rebuild each step, due to a single change. This also helps in detecting small details that should be taken into consideration before launching the service. Something that also adds value in designing a service is to think of a souvenir the customer gets out of using your service and wanting to use it again. A good example are hotels, spas and such. A customer wants to buy a souvenir from using their service to remind of the good time they had. If you want to maximize the customers experience, make sure in the design phase, that all the senses of the customer are being used to create a positive and memorable experience. As design is often mostly thought from the visual point of view, a smell/sound/taste or a feeling of touch can be the designs separating you from all the competitors and engaging the customer to your service!


Prototype phase 

The next step is to choose the top three ideas and then turn them into a prototype. (More about prototyping click here). It is important to turn the ideas into a physical form and make sure it is interactive for you and the testing party. This will be the base for gaining opinion and making a cheap failure. If at this point it is shown that something doesn’t work, it is easy to go back and modify it. With testing and seeing how people react you need to be able not to be defensive towards your own prototype. If the user doesn’t understand what they are doing or how they can work about, there is something that works wrong and it needs to be fixed. Now finding this error might not be so easy, as it doesn’t always rely on the prototype itself, but the bigger picture of the problem may not be processed far enough.


Stickdorn, M. & Schneider, J. 2012. This is Servcie Design Thinking. John Wiley Sons Inc. 


Żebrowski, P. 2016. Design Thinking – What, How, Why, When? Watched 10.5.2020. TEDxSzczecinLive.




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