Design thinking is a big organizational fad, and hopefully, one that’s here to stay. There’s a lot you can do to learn about design, most of it not things you get in a typical undergraduate program (outside product design itself). In a single sentence, design thinking has to do with increasing your empathy towards users’ problems and creativity in solving them. In practical terms, tuning your ability to learn about users, write up user personas, and deliver user stories are some of the more immediately useful skills you can develop. The most fundamental idea you can take to heart is that you’re designing a product around a user not trying to program a user around a product.

Four telltale signs you have a healthy Design process:

  1. Everyone’s Encouraged to Think Like a Designer
    This means (at a minimum) that everyone’s trained to put themselves in the shoes of a user and articulate creative solutions to their problems. For a terrific and inspiring explanation, see Donald Norman’s article ‘My Dream: The Rise of the Small’.
  2. Product Design Involves Direct Interaction Between Implementers and Customer-Facing Staff
    What you ideally want is a safe, open forum between the folks that are out learning about the customer and the folks that know about the product implementation. The further away you move from this, the more fidelity you lose. Also, more is not more- I find meetings of this type with over five people are thieves of time where not much is accomplished.
  3. Engineering Development Constantly Bugs Customer-Facing Colleagues
    If you’re in the early stages of your product development, your implementers should probably be encountering questions where they want to hear from the voice of the customer. This isn’t universally true but if you’re consistently missing the mark on usability and customer interface, consider enhancing the ‘product owner’ interactions, assuming you’re using agile.
  4. Multiple Solutions to Substantial Problems are Considered
    More is not more- if you know what to do, do it. But if your teams are putting together multiple alternatives and discussing them with their colleagues and the customer-facing teams, that’s a good sign you have a robust design process.

Four telltale signs you do not have a healthy Design process:

  1. Design is an Engineering Thing
    If the design is just an engineering thing and, in agile terms, the product owner role is weak or nonexistent, you’ll have a highly serialized process (at best) for learning what product implementations are working for you.
  2. Decision by Committee
    You want interdisciplinary participation and broad-based input, but that doesn’t mean design-by-committee. That rarely produces a good products. Your best bet in agile terms is to have someone in the product owner role that’s entrusted to make final design decisions.
  3. You have “Requirements” Instead of “Stories”
    Requirements obscure motivation and make people behave like legislators. User personas and stories provide purpose-driven inputs to the design process.
  4. Lots of Discussions about the Technology
    Your discussions should be about what the user wants to do vs. how the technology behaves. It’s not that hard to make the technology do the right thing in most cases.