What The Hell Is Design Thinking?


Design Thinking. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you haven’t. Either way, we’re going to talk about it, or at least a little of it. Its a topic that has often come under discussion. But maybe not as much as it should be. So its understandable if the concept is not as nearly as familiar with the tech community at large. This is what SLASSCOM’s Demystifying Design Thinking program was all about.

Okay, so what exactly is Design Thinking?

Kicking things off was Madu Ratnayake – CIO at Virtusa. He began by talking about the different kinds of problems that exist and how each of these problems are tackled. For example, an engineering problem would be resolved through the application of design thinking. A business problem would be resolved via optimization thinking, in the sense where there might not be an exact right or wrong answer. Likewise, wicked problems are one of these such problems. This is where the concept of design thinking is employed.Madu Ratnayake | Demystifying Design Thinking

But design thinking is not just a set of rules or procedures to follow. Rather, its a framework, a mindset of sorts. This mindset includes aspects such as empathy, mindfulness, collaboration, being action oriented, and “show don’t tell”, etc. With these aspects comes the design thinking process. Here’s how it works.

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

Madu further commented on how design is becoming the new language of business. Why? Because 71% of companies said that Design Thinking improved their work culture, quotes Madu. Before concluding his session, Madu mentioned that if anybody is interested in contributing with design thinking in a Sri Lankan context, they could visit their website.

Design Thinking: A case study

Next up, was Yasith Abeynayaka – Principal Business Analyst at Cambio Software Engineering. He started off with a small challenge. He asked the participants to draw their neighbor. Later, they were to share these drawings with the said neighbor. As this was done, many of the participants shared a laugh as they received the drawing of themselves. Yasith pointed out how children do the same exercise. But rather than laughing at the drawings, they tend to hold them out proudly. Why? The reason being that as we get older, we grow to be more conscious about things. We develop a perception assuming that “being creative” falls under certain type of people.

Yasith Abeynayaka | Demystifying Design Thinking
“You are the creative one. This is a task for you” is something we hear all the time

According to Yasith, its a matter of creative confidence. This is where one has the confidence in approaching problems as opportunities or learning to fail at things. He asked the audience to start showing their unfinished work to others and tryout thinks you’re not good at. Yasith believes that only then it will bring the innovator out of you.

Sadly we have confused creativity with artistry – Yasith Abeynayaka

Later on, Yasith took the example of designing a low cost incubator. He noted that in such a scenario, its important to understand the root cause first. If a low cost incubator is the solution, then what is the problem? For one thing, it’s important to understand human needs. Hundreds and thousands of infants are lost during child birth every day. In the case of the low cost incubator example, the actual problem turns out is helping parents ensure newborn infants are given a chance to survive in rural communities.

Essentially, all of this comes down to empathy. Yasith pointed out that one should empathize the problem they’re trying to solve before zooming into solutions. In other words, one should reframe the problem considering real human insights.

Building design thinking into the work culture

As the session drew to a close, the evening moved on to a QnA session with the audience. But not before Yasith listed out a few ways how design thinking can be incorporated into the work culture.

  • Encourage to show unfinished work
  • Encourage to participate in things people might not be good at
  • Promote actions over discussions
  • Promote learning to fail at things

During the QnA, one of the most interesting questions that popped up was that if there’s a difference between customer centric design and design thinking. The answer, according to Yasith, one key difference is that being customer centric sometimes meant that solutions are changed based on customer feedback. But design thinking would mean that you take time to identify the actual problem. As mentioned before, it comes down to reframing the problem with human insights.

The session continued with a few more questions posted at the speakers. Until finally, it was time to end in what was an interesting two and a half hours of demystifying design thinking.


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