Design Thinking and where creation happens

This month’s Carnival of Journalism asks about Design Thinking and if we’ve used it or how we get our creative juices flowing. Our host is Donica Mensing.

The quick answer to the design thinking question is: Formally. No. I’ve never used “Design Thinking.”

Since I’ve never worked with a professional “design thinker” maybe I’m misinformed, but the majority of what I understand about D-thinking is that it’s market research. Well, it’s slightly better. It’s the TED-talk of market research. And while I do love me some TED talks, they also need more scrutiny. Onion Talks are a perfect satire.

Staunch d-thinking advocates will probably push back on the “market research” label. And I admit, there is much more to the rich tradition of design thinking as a means for designers to solve problems. But I think as D-Thinking’s spread to other disciplines, what translates the most is the idea of sympathy for users and trying to identify their problems. To me, this is market research. It could just be a potato/potato (pronunciation) difference as opposed to apples and oranges.

At least from my observations: Design Thinking doesn’t come up with solutions. It’s just a means to clarify the problem. Post defining the problem, perhaps Design Thinking has a method of clearly exploring potential solutions through sketches, prototypes and mind-mapping, etc. But I don’t think these are specific to Design Thinking. If they are – then who isn’t a design thinker?

My experience with “getting creative juices flowing” is a mix of a few elements. There is the Aha moment. The spidey-sense moment and the ability to pivot. 

The Aha moment: It’s the most adrenaline filled. The initial idea is a spark and the goal during this period is just to take that spark as far as you can. It’s a phase of white board drawings, features upon features and ideas pouring out. The biggest problem with this phase is that  you can come up with features that would take your current resources YEARS or more to execute and it becomes harder to find the initial spark that started it all (which is what you have to execute on now). In short, the Aha moment is the time for dreaming. But you have to wake up and remember the kernel of your dream.  The minimal viable product – that’s what you have at the moment.

The Spidey-sense: In almost every project I’ve worked on, at some point, I get a “spidey-sense” that something is wrong about a specific aspect. The night before Assignment Zero launched, I couldn’t sleep. I knew deep down that one part of the project wasn’t right and wouldn’t work. We had to do a hard pivot in the middle to bring the project to completion. I was young at the time and I only wish now I had spoken up more about my internal spidey-sense. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but I think everyone has it.  I would call it “creative.” It’s your internal voice that tells you: “something new needs to happen here, because the current conditions aren’t working.” You don’t have to act on your spidey-sense ASAP. But you should follow it. Find out if others have that sense and if/how users are experiencing your product and if they have the issue you are imagining (or other issues) This part might also be D-thinking?

The Pivot: This is related to both the Aha moment (cutting down on the excess) and the Spidey-sense (redirecting when you realize things have gone wrong and users have a problem). It’s the low to the Aha’s high. It’s also the release of tension created from your Spidey-sense. It’s how projects iterate and push forward. And it is wholly creative both in that you are re-inventing the project and in the sense that creating anything is also about what you choose NOT to do.