How UX Professionals Define Design Thinking in Practice

In this lesson, I’m going to talk through the first phase of our research where we aim to understand how practitioners themselves actually define design thinking, what it is, what it is not. After conducting in person intercepts and remote interviews across countries, industries roles are finding, was this the majority of you and design professionals design thinking about the same regardless of their industry. However, there’s no agreement on the specifics. Before we explicitly asked participants to define design thinking, we wanted to uncover what words or concepts our respondents freely associated with design thinking. Participants responded with a range of words from characteristics like iterative to specific visuals, like a loop to interpretations like trendy or not useful.

Our findings suggest that the majority of people around 62 percent associate design thinking with characteristic like attributes. We think this can be due to a couple of things. One, they’re tangible, characteristic based language is the most basic way to teach and grasp otherwise abstract concepts to it’s consistent. All branded definitions of design thinking, whether it be from an institution or a company, often include these kinds of descriptors, whereas they may otherwise preach conflicting language or value propositions. And three, it’s popular in the visuals, the most popular visual representations of design thinking viewed as a process which was the most common Frehley associated word from respondents. In this first phase of our research, we also asked participants to define design thinking. The majority of answers fell into one or two of three mental models of what design thinking really is. The first mental model is thinking of design thinking as a strict process. Several participants define design thinking as problem-solving towards some sort of steps or process. The second mental model is thinking of design thinking as a mindset shift. Some participants define design thinking primarily as changing the way you think or new out of the box thinking or a different way of working. And then third mental model we have, and definitely the most complex is design thinking as a toolkit. These participants didn’t associate a specific process with design thinking, but rather viewed it as scaffolding to both solve organizational, so internal and end-user external problems. We see these three ways of defining design thinking as a continuous range of perceptions. And I hypothesize that this range actually mirrors the amount of experience that people have when it comes to something like design thinking. They go from perceiving it as a prescribed set process to a mindset, to a dynamic toolkit that’s appropriate for approaching a wide variety of problems.

We look forward to conducting further research, and I cannot wait to publish our findings.

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