P.S. Tips for the Design Thinking Rookie

Post mortem of a beginner's design thinking journey, deliberate practice, and the value of an innovative & entrepreneurial mindset
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

time flies when you're having fun

And we're at the end! Our team's end product was completely different than what we had imagined at the start of this design thinking journey. SwapBox was a concept I could never have developed in isolation.

So how did we get here? Let's time travel. Here's what I would tell myself from three months ago.


What is design thinking? In Chapter 1 of Design Thinkingit's defined as "a systematic and collaborative approach for identifying and creatively solving problems." (Luchs, Swan, Griffin, 2015)

But the cool thing is, that boiled down, it's about putting the human back in ideas. And once you do that, you realize very quickly it's about creating real value.

In Change by Design, Tim Brown suggests that "the mission of design thinking is to translate observations into insights and insights into products and services that will improve lives." (Brown, 2009) And that involves four questions.

Credits: Professor Michael G. Luchs, Marketing Research Process & Customer Insights for Innovation Lecture

The first two questions — (1) Is it valuable? (2) Is it responsible? — are the human elements of design thinking. It looks past whether an idea can be implement and if it'll be profitable, and instead focuses on if it should be implemented.

The latter two questions — (3) Is it feasible? (4) Is it viable? — are more typical business criteria. But when ideas are additionally measured on value and responsibility, we start to look past good ideas and towards amazing ones. Note: these usually also have compelling problem statement. Insight + need + behavior = cool idea!

So whether it's empathy, collaboration, or promoting well-being, the design thinking framework encourages a perspective that surpasses the limitations of an individual's thinking on how a problem should be solved. And you can learn a lot with just qualitative research! Most people never see the wealth of information hidden in the everyday.

So, how to get better at design thinking?

a matter of quality

The idea of deliberate practice, or focusing on how one practices versus the raw frequency one practices, is largely credited to psychologist K. Anders Ericsson.

This concept is interesting because it suggests to get better at design thinking, you need to think not only about what is being done at any given step, but also how that step is being executed.

That takes more effort than just mindlessly doing something. That's also why it's more effective.

In breaking things down, deliberate practice also helps us analyze what went wrong and where we need to improve. Sometimes, self-awareness is required to get better at something.

For example, great interview topics are worth very little if they're not communicated in a way that resonates with the interviewee. And, a focus group facilitation guide can be well designed, but still result in a poor focus group session if the facilitator is inexperienced.

One way to adopt elements of deliberate practice into the design thinking journey is through reflection on the experience and its outcomes. So, keeping a record of some sorts (like a blog!) can be very useful.

thinking innovative & entrepreneurial

More precisely, becoming a better creative problem solver involves a mindset and set of skills useful in I&E — innovation and entrepreneurship. It's far less intimidating than it might seem. Whether you're an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, corporate, or something else, practicing the I&E perspective can lend a new way of thinking to any task.

Five easy ways to get started

#1 Co-create to think more creatively

Used properly, collaboration is an extremely powerful tool for creative thinking. Sometimes the wildest ideas can be turned into the best ideas. An underrated effect of collaboration? Becoming inspired from others' ideas.

#2 Experiment and prototype

There are two types of failures — avoidable and unavoidable. In learning to fail wisely, you minimize failures to the latter. The iterative nature of design thinking is awesome for learning by doing, and can be practiced through forms of experimentation including improvisation, (low and high resolution) prototyping, and feedback synthesis

#3 Know when to say nothing 

If design thinking is about putting the human back in ideas, we get there by starting with empathy. And sometimes that means focused listening. To unearth information hidden in plain sight, it pays to observe and listen.

#4 Embrace a growth mindset

The ability to practice self-direction and be solution optimistic is critical to trying things and learning from failure. It's also an opportunity to think about creating the future of tomorrow and how to improve well-being and social good.

#5 Get comfortable with ambiguity

Risk isn't necessarily bad. Indeed, the unknown or overlooked is an ingredient of finding insight. It helps to have patience and vision. This allows us to get better at opportunity discovery too.

final thoughts 

So how to get the most out of your journey through the design thinking process?

First, realize that the best answer isn't always clear.

It's human nature to dislike ambiguity (maybe it had something to do with survival), but there's plenty of it everywhere. The trick is to get over failing and avoid becoming attached to ideas. Design thinking is iterative after all. And the better you get at generating tons of ideas, the easier it is to toss less interesting or useful ones, merge others, and come up with really innovative solutions.

Second, don't try to be a creative genius. 

Instead, be a team player. What's cool about that is your value as a collaborator taps into all the things you as an individual know! As Tim Brown says in an HBR article on Design Thinking: "the best design thinkers don’t simply work alongside other disciplines; many of them have significant experience in more than one." (Brown, 2008)

Third, keep in mind understanding is wasted without action. 

And sometimes, action requires leadership. For some people, design thinking is a very new and uncomfortable departure from what they are familiar with. A little leadership in embracing the process may be needed to help others get onboard with the kind of experimentalism required for significant innovation.

Practice is the way to mastery, they say. But let's take that a step further - to really be efficient with your time, action through deliberate practice is the way to mastery.


this course blog in review:

  • The Art of Asking Questions -
    Alternatively, Design Thinking Bootcamp + why asking the right questions leads to better ideas. First look at the design thinking framework.
  • In Plain Sight -
    How observation can help unearth insights on behaviors - and why that matters. Observation as a tool (virtual and participant) and empathy.
  • To Solve the Right Problem, Focus -
    Why defining a problem for everyone is a solution for no one. The power of personas, experience maps, and insight synthesis in understanding the best problem to solve for users.
  • The Myth of Working Like a Creative Genius -
    Don't wait for inspiration to strike — find it. Here's how. Hint: It takes practice. The art of ideas, the mental workout of thinking and ideation, and the methodology of ideation
  • P.S. Tips for the Design Thinking Rookie -
    Post mortem of a beginner's journey through the design thinking process, why deliberate practice is the key to getting better, and the value of an innovative & entrepreneurial mindset