Design Thinking with the Imperial War Museum

We were recently invited to give a presentation and take part in a workshop at a showcase event at the Imperial War Museum, with whom we have recently worked with on a UX Research project.

The theme was to get external experts in to talk about how organisations can design systems that are of greater benefit to the organisation and the people using them. All too often, organisations will maintain and build systems with a feature-led approach, or with a general business requirement driving the approach taken. There is little research done into the people using those systems, their actual needs, behaviours and what the wider context of those activities are. Frequently this leads to the aims of the project being ill-understood and, even worse, teams can build something that is hard to use and not what people actually needed to solve a particular problem.

Theory

Approaching these problems with a Design Thinking approach can greatly mitigate these common pitfalls. At its essence, it is a skill and an approach that seeks to create innovative usable products that help people become better at the things they are trying to achieve. Whilst highly skilled designers will still be needed to realise and execute high quality products, organisations can start to use Design Thinking to think like a designer does.

“Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”
– Tim Brown CEO, IDEO

The framework for design thinking is essentially split into 2 phases - first we aim to explore what we are doing and why we are doing it, then we can move onto how we can solve the problem we have identified. 

Design Thinking process

We start by understanding the problem, and empathising with our end-users (What problems do they have? What is the context of these problems?). This is nothing new, and is the foundation of any Human-Centred Design process. The important thing is that doing this throughly will inform how we proceed, it allows us to define the problem to be solved. After that, we explore different ways of solving those problems, we make prototype and test them with end-users. This allows us to validate our ideas earlier on, before we build the final product.

Practice

To demonstrate how the approach works, we then took part in a workshopping session, where we split into small teams, and the task was to identify a problem and design a solution for it. This is where we could see how exploring the problem using different tools can help. Key tools here were paper, pens and post-it notes! What makes the process so powerful is that people are physically getting together in the same room, and they are openly discussing, exploring, and visualising ideas.

So instead of starting with "We need to design feature X", we thought about current problems the team were encountering. We then discuss these, and vote on which problem would be most worth solving.

The next stage was think about all the steps involved in the process where the problem occurs, identifying the problem areas, and thinking about potential opportunities for improving the process. Writing everything down on post-it notes allows us to capture and organise everything into themes, and a linear journey (the customer journey). Being able to see everything mapped out gives the whole team a good understanding of the context of the problems we can address.

The final stage on this day was to then sketch ideas for solving the "pain points" identified in our process. You do not need to be a designer at this stage, all we are doing is visually exploring how we might solve a problem. Seeing ideas is so powerful, and not focusing on the finer details allows us to quickly explore and evaluate those ideas.

Seeing value in Design Thinking

We really enjoyed taking part on the workshop, it followed on naturally from our talk about how we work at Digirati. Putting people at the heart of the process, empathy, and then engaging in more iterative and visual ways of exploring problems is a powerful approach that can transform how you approach designing and building systems.