Design thinking is a popular methodology that is used by designers to come up with solutions to challenges. A couple of years back, the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) published an article on how design thinking could be used by not-for-profits. Titled Design Thinking for Social Innovation, the article gives a useful background on the principles of design thinking and how the methodology could be used for addressing social challenges.
CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown has been active in popularizing design thinking, and co-authored the SSIR article. He described the design thinking process "as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. There are three spaces to keep in mind: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Think of inspiration as the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions; ideation as the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas; and implementation as the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives."
The essential take away from the article is that the design thinking methodology may provide designers (product or program) with a deeper understanding of the target beneficiary - which includes understanding the challenge or problem they face and their behavior and attitudes which would feed in to ideas and the implementation of the solution.
The article references a number of case studies that demonstrate how design thinking could have improved the outcome. A water treatment centre in India failed to take in to consideration the behavior and habits of their users. The centre provides the water in a 5 gallon jerican, and this is simply too heavy and awkward to carry, especially for women who are used to carrying heavy objects at their hips or on their heads.
The authors write: "Design thinking incorporates constituent or consumer insights in depth and rapid prototyping, all aimed at getting beyond the assumptions that block effective solutions. Design thinking—inherently optimistic, constructive, and experiential—addresses the needs of the people who will consume a product or service and the infrastructure that enables it".
The Internews Center for Innovation & Learning is currently contemplating experimenting with the design thinking methodology. All too often, programs are implemented - like the water purification center - without having a deep understanding of the consumer or beneficiary. Hopefully, as the structures of non-profits start to let in external influences, methods such as design thinking will improve program design and impact.