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What is Design Thinking? What Design School Didn’t Teach Me

By Laura Griebenow

January 15, 2016

There’s the design you learn in school. And then there’s design in the real world.

This past December, about a month after joining the Azul Seven team, I was invited to participate in a design thinking bootcamp with a few other new hires. I recently graduated college with a degree in Human-Centered Design, so the bootcamp content was familiar, but I was curious about experiencing another application of the human-centered design methodology. Even though I’ve been practicing many of these concepts for the past four years, those two days of training still managed to push me out of my comfort zone and introduce me to some new ways of working—using radical collaboration, empathy gaining in the field and true rapid prototyping.

Throughout my college career I grew accustomed to brainstorming in groups of like-minded individuals, then working alone to refine a concept before regrouping with classmates to help push each other a little bit further. What struck me during bootcamp was the continuous and extreme approach to collaboration. Working together as one team, throughout the project cycle, was really enlightening; it kept me from clinging to my initial ideas and instead focus as a team on expanding ideas as far as we could. It was also refreshing to work with people from a variety of perspectives—from account to development to design—instead of just a group of designers. Combining different personalities and ways of thinking into the project led us to stronger ideas and better end results than I could have anticipated.

Interviewing users to gain empathy was something I also practiced in school, but I typically interviewed friends and people I already knew. In the design thinking bootcamp, our team worked to gain empathy for users by going out into public spaces, intercepting and interviewing randomly selected people we did not know. Approaching a complete stranger is a different experience, and even though it was frightening at first, it didn’t take long for me to gain a level of comfort with it. It was amazing to find that people are willing to open up with you and share their experiences and emotions if you just ask. Talking with strangers is also interesting in that it reduces the tendency to make a lot of assumptions. Instead of talking with a friend and glossing over the details I assume I already know, these intercepts forced me to ask questions and dig to true thoughts, feelings and motivations behind people’s behaviors. Looking back, gaining user empathy this way is something I wish I had been able to experience as a student.

Most of my college work applied human-centered design methods to industrial design products. But this time, applying it to an undefined medium was even more interesting. It allowed me and my team as designers to keep open minds rather than jumping to conclusions and solutions too quickly in the process. After the bootcamp was over, I realized that my group could have pushed the prototypes even further by continuing to gain more empathy and insight from more testing. Opening up the design formats, we could have even tested the prototypes in different mediums, environments, timeframes, etc.

Since joining Azul Seven and completing the bootcamp I’ve learned how the human-centered approach allows for amazing solutions to be created for a wide range of products and services, far outside the realm of industrial design. And that practicing these concepts of radical collaboration and empathy gaining has applications for helping clients solve real problems for users and create more innovative products to meet their needs.

Want to learn more about design for innovation or biomimicry?

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