Design thinking: the user at the source of innovation

Design thinking is quite popular in most industries. Taught in the most prestigious universities and adopted by major organizations such as Apple, Google and several others, this problem-solving and creation method revolutionizes the way innovation is conducted. Instead of starting with the solution, which is the reflex for most people, design thinking requires listening and demonstrating empathy towards the end user.

Design thinking and the creative process

Inspired by designers, this work method rests on a few inescapable basic phases. First, defining the user’s problem and understanding why it exists. Proceeding through surveys, simulation of various scenarios or observation allows to deconstruct initial hypotheses and shed light on ill-defined or unknown problems. Information gathered at this stage help guide the reflection effectively and pragmatically.

The next step is brainstorming, during which the team proposes creative solutions. It is now time to imagine that everything is possible, and consider all proposals. The most promising solutions are analyzed in detail and the team selects one or a few. Digital, physical or schematic prototypes of these solutions are prepared and rapidly tested to see to what extent they can really contribute to solving the problem initially identified.

Practical use examples

Proceeding this way, i.e. interviewing the end user from the onset and creating a solution for them, can be extremely efficient for any organization, namely in the engineering sector.

For example, design thinking can be applied to help in the development of technical solutions. Let’s consider the design of a public square meant to accommodate and entertain the residents of a given neighbourhood. Because the project generates costs for taxpayers, it is important that the money invested really serves to fulfil residents’ needs, in order to ensure project acceptability. Based on quantitive data, we can establish the population’s typical profile and properly define its needs. Ultimately, we can test the solutions developed to verify if they really meet residents’ needs, and by the same token, create a sense of ownership with respect to the project.

Furthermore, designing such a large-scale project requires the contribution of stakeholders from various sectors: construction, development, urban planning, landscaping and others. For them, design thinking is an opportunity to work together and join forces to propose solutions that are satisfactory for the targeted population.

A culture worth adopting

This way of doing things goes against traditional reasoning methods. First, failure is part of design thinking. Indeed, several prototypes will be tested, some will be improved and others completely abandoned. Until the end of the testing phase, we have no certainty as to whether or not the proposed ideas will be successful. The organization and the team must be willing to live with failure, which in our culture is hardly acceptable.

Furthermore, the proposed ideas must be creative. Therefore, this method requires “thinking outside the box,” and encouraging all stakeholders to join in a common reflection, regardless of their area of expertise or hierarchical level. Each one of them will propose a solution based on their own experience and related to their own sector. It is therefore important to create an environment conducive to discussion and creativity, encourage dialogue between teams so that they may challenge and polish the proposed ideas to eventually come up with innovative concepts that go beyond the framework of obvious solutions.

Inspiring a culture of innovation at CIMA+

Over the last few months, design thinking workshops were offered to some of CIMA+’s management teams, namely to reflect on the means of attracting new talents in a context of labour shortage. This method also served to imagine innovative solutions to operational problems encountered by managers (work planning, optimization of the proposal preparation process, etc.).

By challenging deeply rooted functioning modes, CIMA+ understands that design thinking will contribute to making the organization more agile and implementing a culture that promotes co-creation and innovation for the benefit of clients and their users.

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