We have been hearing a lot recently about the use of “Design thinking” as a process that factors audience and user needs as part of the design requirements.  Design Thinking comes in a range of guises but the two that seem to resonate for me is the connection to User Centred Design and also the use of Agile methodologies in the design process. All of these processes have an emphasis on iteration: building and failing fast, learning on the way through and also engaging with the target audience/users throughout the process.

There are five phases in the Design Thinking model and they vary slightly depending on the methodology applied. They are:

  1. Discovery (Empathise)
  2. Interpretation (Define)
  3. Ideation
  4. Experimentation (Prototype)
  5. Evolution (Test)
Design Thinking
Design Thinking – from http://www.therightbraininitiative.org

When I was undertaking my PhD, I was influenced by another form of iterative process – Action Research. It seemed to me at the time to be a process that aligned itself well to the emerging online space, where the audience could both tune out and talk back. Since then the focus has moved away from the classic ‘one-to-many’ notion of broadcasting or campaigning audiences to a recognition of the peer-to-peer way people communicate online. This significant change in the media flow has shifted the need from trying to inform to trying to ‘engage’.

Here is another interesting chart of Design Thinking stages put out by the Nueva School

The Nueva School model
The Nueva School model

This summary from the Nueva School summarises nicely the Design Thinking process and application:

Design Thinking & Engineering is core to the learning approach at Nueva. It encompasses the empathy and ethnography focus of the humanities, the idea generation and invention of the arts and engineering, and the hypothesis creation, prototyping, testing, and reflection methodology of the sciences. Armed with the mindsets and skills of Design Thinking, students are able to identify situations where they can better the world—and have the personal and collaborative tools and resolve to take action.

I found this resource online which focuses on design thinking for educators which  is useful for a much broader range of contexts. It is a tool put out by IDEO, who are one of the key organisations working with Design Thinking education.

What I think also needs to be firmly embedded in the design thinking model is a focus on inclusive design. This would highlight the need for a user focused approach, with attention made to the users ‘at the edges’. What I mean by this is not the 80 per cent that could be considered main stream, but those users that may have challenges due to physical or mental impairments, language, culture and bandwidth. Yes. Bandwidth. I know that bandwidth is such a 20th century concept, but many Australians, particularly in regional and remote communities still do not have internet access. Another emerging trend is the increasing use of mobile devices to access online content.

In June 2013, ACMA reported that 7.5 million Australians accessed the internet via a mobile device. ACMA also made the bold assertion in March 2015 that, nearly all adult Australians are online. If this is correct then it is critical that the information and design of online material is accessible to the widest possible audience.

So, to sum up, design thinking and inclusive design methods help designers and content developers to create materials that are focused on engagement and access. Great! stuff!


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