Designing in a Bubble
Sallie Mbitiru  |  Dec 23, 2019  | 
Sallie Mbitiru  |  Dec 23, 2019  |  Technology

With the rising popularity of design thinking, its application has also grown, with many firms establishing full-fledged design units and adopting the design thinking framework. This is great because more work is being put into developing any product before it is released into the market for consumption. That said, design thinking has been criticized for being more theoretical than practical in giving valuable outcomes. The notion expressed here is that that there is too much thinking and far too little doing. This begs the question, can design thinking lead to more than just validated ideas?

Imagine this.

You walk into a cocktail bar and ask for a cocktail, but instead of getting your Monster Frog, the bartender explains to you how you can make one. You will walk out angry and disappointed. Why? You wanted a drink not a recipe (and the proverb about teaching them how to fish does not apply here). Although a recipe would be nice for future knowledge, as a customer you just wanted a cocktail.

This is exactly what design thinking offers when there is no space for execution. Discover a problem, ideate, prioritize the ideas and produce an output. The end.

In itself, design thinking is all about providing a more structured yet iterative way of coming up with solutions. A scientific framework. A guide of how to get to the solution, not the solution itself.

The challenge here is to go beyond the thinking to actual doing; going a step further to not only produce outputs but real outcomes. Granted, the make-up of product teams in different firms may not be identical. Regardless, designers play a key role in ensuring the outcomes are impactful, delivering good experiences to the users and solving the problem already identified; making sure there is no missing link between the design thinking output and the actual outcome.

The point is not to make design-thinking frameworks an end in themselves. It need not stop after validation of ideas. It is using the design principles to give the most plausible outcomes. Actualization of this needs an established link between the problem we seek to solve and the actual solution.

The only way to do that is to stop designing in a bubble.

It is about fervent communication and involvement of the potential customers in every step of the process from discovery through development to the final launch of a product. Co-creation needs to take center stage and not only during immersion but during the experimental phase. Test the product with the real users and iterate based on the feedback. Designers are the advocates for the users.

However, advocacy isn’t just the designer’s responsibility. It is a two-way street. Stakeholders also need to be more open to design thinking principles. Most people often seek to protect and optimize their domains of expertise, losing sight of the wider picture, which should be solving the clients’ needs. They end up leaving the job to the ‘design-thinkers’ and are only interested in outcomes. This just encourages the ‘designing in a bubble’ syndrome, which in itself is dangerous and serves no true purpose in an organization.