Design Thinking is an iterative process used to solve complex problems (also known as wicked problems). The user and his needs are central to this; Design Thinking is about understanding the people for whom a product or service is being developed.
It may sound logical to put the customer’s needs first, but in practice it is often not. People are very inclined to think in patterns and assumptions. It is extremely difficult to put those assumptions aside and to arrive at innovative solutions based on the needs of a user. Design Thinking is often referred to as ‘outside the box thinking’. Designers try to develop new ways of thinking and break away from the dominant or more common problem-solving methods.
Design Thinking is both a way of thinking and working, as well as a collection of practical methods that stimulate you to explore new alternatives in order to arrive at better solutions.
In short, Design Thinking gives us a means to dig that little bit deeper and discover new ways to improve user experiences.
Video: In his 2009 TED talk, Design Thinking pioneer Tim Brown discusses the value of Design Thinking in solving highly complex challenges.
In 2009, Airbnb was on the brink of bankruptcy. The company’s revenue was about $200 a week. Split between three young founders living in San Francisco, it was quite a loss.
One afternoon, the team with Paul Graham (from Y Combinator) was doing search results for listings in New York City, trying to figure out what wasn’t working and why they weren’t growing. After spending some time on the site with the product, Gebbia (co-founder and chief product officer) had an important insight. “We have noticed a pattern. There is a similarity between these 40 offers. The similarity is that the photos were bad. The pictures weren’t great pictures. People used their camera phones or used images from classified sites. It was actually no surprise that people weren’t booking rooms because you couldn’t even really see what you were paying for. ”
Graham threw a completely non-scalable and non-technical solution to the problem: travel to New York, rent a camera, spend some time with clients listed on the website, and replace amateur photography with beautiful, high-resolution photos. The three-person team took the next flight to New York and processed all the amateur photos into beautiful images. Originally, there was no data to support this decision. They just went and did it. A week later, the results were in: by improving the photos, the weekly revenue doubled to about $400 a week. This was the first financial improvement the company had seen in more than eight months. They knew they were onto something.
Gebbia said the team initially believed that everything they did should be “scalable.” It wasn’t until they gave themselves permission to experiment with non-scalable changes in the business that they climbed out of what they called the “bin of grief.”