What is Design Thinking? Part Two: Design

Back in 1995, there was a young heir to an auto part company in small-town Ohio.

A town like so many others. A town where the inhabitants either worked for the local factory or have a family member who did. And like so many others, this factory was on the brink of bankruptcy.
In a last-ditch effort to save the factory, and ultimately the town — Thomas R. “Tommy” Callahan III set forth on a mission to meet the King of Auto Parts, Ray Zalinsky. You see, if he could convince Zalinksy to invest in his late father’s brake pads — the factory would be saved, and with it, the town. And you know what? He did it. Tommy cornered Zalinksy in an elevator.

Except for one thing — before Tommy found Zalinsky, his nerves got the better of him. Tommy had a propensity to sweat like an unfaithful groom at his sun-soaked ceremony. To mask his perspiration, Tommy grabbed the nearest thing to him — a pine cone car air freshener.

When Tommy finally caught up to Ray, this is how it transpired:

Ray Zalinsky:
Went a little heavy on the pine tree perfume there, kid?

Sir, it’s a taxicab air freshener.

Ray Zalinsky:
Great, you’ve pinpointed it. Step two is washing it off.
A lot can be gleaned from this brief exchange. Especially for those anticipating to find the second phase of the Design Thinking Process when they opened this piece.

In the first episode of our series devoted to Design Thinking,  we outlined the five phases of the Design Thinking Process:

  1. Empathy
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. And Test

In that piece, we established how one must empathize with their target audience. Whether it be the client of a web designers in vermont or the target audience of said client. Today, we focus on defining all the knowledge we acquired during that phase.

In other words — we Define the problem.

What is Define?

Now, before we unpack this section of Design Thinking — we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the primary source of this blog — the Hasso Plattner School of Design Thinking.
Alright, now that we got that established, let’s dig in.  Hasso Plattner School states:

“The Define mode of the design thinking process is all about bringing clarity and focus to the design space.”

In the first phase, Empathize, you had to get an understanding of the client/customer. Understand who they are, what they do, and what they hope to accomplish. In this phase, you must Define exactly what you consumed.

For some of you, hubris may seep in.  Meaning, you think you got it, right? All problems are pretty much the same, right? Wrong.  All situations are snowflakes — there are never two of the same.  Sure, the circumstances may be similar, if not identical. But, the people you’re contending with will make sure as shit that they stand out. If you know what we’re talking about, you’re nodding your head.  Yeah, the Define phase will help with that.

According to Hasso Plattner, your primary goal of the Define stage is to create a well-thought-out action statement or point-of-view/perspective.  This will act as your North Star.  A guiding light assuring you stay focused on the specific needs of your client/customer.

In the simplest way possible — this is you making sense of everything you did during the Empathize phase and putting it in your own words.

For those of you wondering why this is important — we won’t make fun of you.  We get it, you’re skeptical.

Why Define?

“Great you pinpointed it. Step two is washing it off.”
Before Tommy could move on to the purpose, he needed to identify a problem.

Before you can move on in the Design Thinking Process, you need to identify the problem.

“The Define mode is critical to the design process because it results in your point-of-view (POV): the explicit expression of the problem you are striving to address. More importantly, your POV defines the RIGHT challenge to address, based on your new understanding of people and the problem space.”

When reading the Hasson Plattner explanation as to why define — what sticks out?  Is it POV? It should. It’s only mentioned three times in two sentences. Yet, do you glean the essence of it?
It’s to take the information you consumed in the Empathize phase — the problems your client and/or consumer’s face and how it affects them — and then put your spin on it.

By taking what you gathered and putting it in your own words, you’re going through a process. A thought process. A state of mind where you give real thought about what you just ingested.  And you describe it.

But how the hell do you do that, right?

How do you Define? 

A while back, I asked Jon Gicewicz, the owner and chief designer for JEG DESIGN INC, to tell me one thing all of his clients share in common:

“They all know what their competition is doing.”

His clients consumed copious amounts of their own adversaries content, they could tell you what the font was.  They could tell you if they had billboards or radio ads. They could tell you how long they’ve been in business. Hell, they can tell you their kid’s favorite baseball team.

This is how you Define.  And it comes from your point of view.  Hasso Plattner says a good POV will:

  • Provide focus and frames the problem
  • Inspire your team
  • Inform criteria for evaluating competing ideas
  • Empower your team to make decisions independently in parallel
  • Capture the hearts and minds of people you meet
  • Save you from the impossible task of developing concepts that are all things to all people (i.e. your problem statement should be discrete, not broad.)

If you’re still not there, it’s okay. You may need to review what you collected during the Empathize phase once more. Or possibly go back to phase one and start over again. And that’s okay.  Trust us, failure is the unwritten phase of the Design Thinking process.

What’s Next?

“Great, you’ve pinpointed it. Step two is washing it off.”

Tommy empathized with the residents of Sandusky, Ohio because he knew his father’s company that kept their families fed. And when he recognized that it was dying, he knew it was up to him to save it. That was his mission at hand.

What’s your or your client’s or your customer’s mission?  Before you make a plan, you need to know what you’re goal ultimately is.  Does that make sense? You don’t map out a trip until you realize where the hell it is that you’re going, right?!

Define is your destination. Define is what is causing you to smell like pine cones. Define is your small town crumbling because the auto parts factory is going bankrupt. Define is why you opened up your business.  Define is the mission at hand.

The next step is washing it off. The next step is meeting Ray Zalinsky and convincing him to buy your companies brake pads. The next step is determining how you’re going fix your client’s problem(s).

The next step is Ideate.

To be continued…

Oh, and if you or your company want a free estimate about any of your graphic and/or web design needs — contact JEG DESIGN INC today!

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Written by Keith Hannigan. Keith is the co-owner and Chief Writer at SBI Content Creation LLC. A content writing company just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

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Post Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash