Vikee is the lead researcher and educator of all things design thinking at Tenaka. In this first episode of our podcast Vikee takes us back to basics, explaining what design thinking is: the mindsets, the methods and some misunderstandings. We look at the impact of design thinking done right, with some practical examples.

This being our first Great Minds Design Think Alike podcast, we thought it was important to talk about design thinking in everyday language – no jargon. And if there is jargon, we explain it. We encourage you to come back to this podcast whenever you feel a bit lost in the sometimes complex and always exciting world of design thinking.

The conversation with Vikee

Welcome to Great Mind Design Think Alike. Where we investigate Design Thinking,  the challenges, the successes and the problems it solves. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of Design thinking check out episode one. Be sure to subscribe so you get the newest episode as it’s released. Great minds design think alike is hosted by Stuart McDougall owner of Tenaka a leading Design thinking consultancy in Johannesburg, South Africa, And is proudly brought to you by Mac media.


This is episode one of Great minds design think alike where I’m speaking to Vikee who is the lead researcher as well as the person who directs the education of design thinking within Tenaka. Today she is going to share with you the design thinking process, some of the methods that are used in design thinking and the effects of design thinking in some examples. This is a layman’s understanding of design thinking. You can refer back to it at any point in time.


What I wanted to do was to unpack with you a bit in layman’s term design thinking, what the principles are. We are just going to chat about it. If there is people in the  future that listen to the interviews that we are going to have with some of the experts in that particular field and they feel they need to come back and get some more knowledge about design thinking they can easily come back to episode one of Great Minds Think Alike.


Vikee just in your Layman’s and simplified way can you just  explain to me what Design thinking is as a definition.


V: Cool. Ok. I think for me what I understand Design thinking to be is a way of coming up with solutions that is focused on and continually touches base with the people that its coming up with solutions for. So I think maybe we should also just mention that, where people hear design thinking or human centered design which I believe are too similar to warranted discussion around how they are different. They hear design and they think of graphic design ,visual design and things like that. I actually had a conversation today about that very thing. Design in this context really means coming up with solutions. So it doesn’t exclude graphic and visual design but it’s much greater than that. So if you are a visual designer you can absolutely apply design thinking to your work. But design thinking as far as i understand it can be an approach to any problem.


S: Right. So the results of Design thinking,  just a couple of examples that you think could be.


V: Yes ok so some of the things we have done here would result in digital solutions so it might be a way of marketing strategy, or website or some way of attracting people to your offering. But it could extend to anything. To the design of a hospital to make it more user friendly. The infrastructure in a town, how do we make traffic flow better in this area. So it’s any solution that has people at the heart of it. How do we make this experience easier for the humans that are going to be interacting with this experience? And that’s why it is really so vast.


S: So the whole user is central to this design process as well as anybody who is actually going to experience whatever this solution is going to be essential to this particular process. Could you maybe take us through some of the steps that are needed to incorporate those people into the Design thinking process process?


V: Absolutely! So I’ll just take you through the sort of approach that we take here, and It starts with research. So whenever you are going to come up with a solution, I think the typical approach is let ‘s sit in a boardroom and come up with ideas based on our understanding of the world. What Design thinking suggests is that you go out and speak to the people that you are designing the solution for. And you don’t go out to them and say “Hi, what do you want?” because humans often don’t know what we want. Sometimes we don’t even know there is a problem. But it’s about going and talking to people and finding out what their experiences are and through some careful question posing, establishing what are the things that make life more difficult for them or what are the things that will be amazing for them to experience because we all have to interact with so many different platforms and situations everyday and a lot of them could do with improvement.


You can easily talk to anyone and they will tell you very quickly about terrible experiences that they have had. Whether it’s interacting with another human or with a digital interface, there are a lot of bad experiences out there. So you start with talking to those people. You gather all your data together and come back. And what we do at Tenaka is we stick a lot of post its on the wall which is beautiful and messy and crazy and then you start to make sense of that craziness. And you try to find out what are the similar themes that are coming up from people then look beyond that and really really dig to see what are the real issues here and as humans we make decisions based on our emotions we might justify the decision afterwards by giving some logical rather, but actually we decide things based on emotions. So we wanna try and understand what are the emotions that people are feeling here? What are their social concerns? And what are their functional concerns?


S: And why would we focus on those specifically the social and the emotions?


V: Because they are so much a driver behind the decision that people make. Even though they are not the obvious ones. So I will use the example of a car cause it’s nice and easy and lots of people will have one. We say that we want a car to take us from A-B which is a functional need, but there is so much  more to it than that so if you choose a car your scope of choice does not extend to every car that will get you from A-B because that’s pretty much every car that goes.


S: Yes.


V: We are looking for emotional things, how does this car make me feel? How does it tick the boxes? How does it align with my values? So if i’m an eco warrior i want a car that is low on consumption or an electric car. I want a car that is going to talk to me and represent me and reflect the way I am into the world. And also want to look good to other people, that’s when the social side comes into it. I will give you an example. I drove into St Johns this morning with my Subaru that has a dent in the side and I thought gosh if I came here, if I was a mum at St Johns my car would look very good, that’s a social concern. That’s a real concern. People make decisions based on those things you know. So that’s why we are trying to not just ask surface level questions which you often get in quantitative research like 10 people take the bus to work and so on. So you want to try and find out why. What are their motivations? What do they really hope to achieve by taking the bus to work? Is it they care about the environment? Is it because they care about their pocket? What? So by understanding those deeper motivations we can start to look at building a solution that is going to speak to them beyond the functional needs. 


S: So in research you often come across data that is qualitative as well as data that is quantitative. And qualitative being number orientated, large quantities of people, statistical. And then qualitative obviously being these insights that you can dig deeper with. Give us your understanding of the two, the difference and how you see them fitting into design thinking?


V: Ok great. One of the focuses of design thinking and I think this sort of detracts from the traditional research that we have done is that it moves away from the quantitative. And I’m not saying that the quantitative is irrelevant, it’s very relevant and we have technology now that can gather big data for us and it’s useful to know that stuff but beyond knowing how many people will do X we wanna understand why. So we really want to qualify that with qualitative data. So if i know that you take the bus and i come and ask you why then i get to understand like i said those deeper motivations behind things. So when we do qualitative research with design thinking or human centered design we tend to value a few deeper conversations rather than many numbers because we are beginning to understand those motivations. Those things that drive people to make decisions.


S: Ok. Are there concerns that arise in projects where people are saying but those smaller numbers of people that you are engaging how do we know that they are  representative of the user or the audience that we wanting to solve this problem for?


V: Ok. Yes we do come across that. I think that people are traditionally more trusting of big numbers, of quantitatives because you have asked a lot of people but we have found with qualitative research that after you have had a good conversion with 8 or 10 people you will start to see repeated patterns coming over the data. Repeat data sometimes called data saturation its where if i had a big conversation with 20 people maybe 8 or 10 of those conversations wouldn’t be bringing up anything new up for us so we stick it around 10 even though that does make people feel uncomfortable because they think how can you represent my market of 3000 clients with just 10 interviews. 


Another thing to consider is if I’m having a problem with something there is a good chance that someone else is. So we feel that having had that conversation with 10 people, obviously i say 10 but it depends also on what we are testing. How many segments they are because a segment needs to be fully represented. So if you have got 5 segments you only speaking to 10 people, that’s 2 people in each segment and you are not really representing the segment. So you need to get a good number of people in each segment to understand the driver and the motivations and the behaviors. So yah we have found that the data does come up again after a certain number of people so we are confident that speaking to 10 people in a group or segment is enough for us to get some deeper insights and something useful for the business.


S: So everything that you have spoken about up to this point is all the research part of design thinking, and you mentioned that you can actually take that data gathered in research and start to synthesize that. Just go into a little bit more detail about that. Like what is the result of that, how do you get that result. You did touch on it but maybe there is a bit of more detail there.


V: So I mentioned the post its and the chaos and making sense of that chaos. And I think this is an area that is actually really beautiful about design thinking because it is a science and an art so there are boundaries and perimeters and guidelines that you should work within. One of them being for me, you must find the right people to talk to. So there are certain rules you need to stick to but within that there is then this artistic, this creative, this room for subjectivity and I think an area where this really comes up is in the synthesis room with the data wall. With all the post its. It would never be an exercise that you would do by yourself, you will always do it with at least one other person, and ideally with a team. Sometimes even bringing a client into that to have different perspectives because design thinking says as a synthesizer or someone who is making sense of the data, you are very much allowed and expected to bring your own world view into that space to make sense of the data. It’s not clinical, well if someone says this then it’s definitely this. Its very much that’s why you need more people cause you need to bounce those thoughts around.


S: The feelings, the emotions


V: Yes, Absolutely. And my experience needs me to conclude this, what do you think about that? Well I have this other perspective on it and then we mold that around until we come with something we feel is not a departure from the data. In the sense that it’s not justified to say this anymore. You know like you have to go back to the data and say, is the conclusion we have come to evident in the data? Can we see it there? Yes we can reasonably say this is from the data. So it’s about going back to the data and looking for the proof all the time. It’s also about bringing something deeper out of that. What are people really concerned about? What are people really looking for?


S: Excellent


V: And then from that we have our insights. And from the insights we look at how we can turn these into opportunities for the business so if we have an insight that says people are particularly worried about the safety of their children in traffic for example. So we look at how can we turn that? Because design thinking is very optimistic. It’s always about looking for solutions to things. So a problem is a good thing but we always want to turn it into a solution. How can we turn this into an opportunity for the business? What can the business do to improve this experience for its customers, or for its users or its employees, whatever. And then we would typically then go back to our clients and say this is what’s come up for us, this is what i think you should do with it and then we hammer it out with them, and they say we can’t do this that’s not gonna be possible, that’s not gonna be feasible or its not gonna be viable for the business. Then we bounce this around. I think sometimes people think design thinking is all about the end user but of cause we are working with businesses and we have to make those businesses sustainable as well. So it has to be a to and from between the end user and the business to make sure this is  a solution that is going to be able to be sustainable and benefit everybody. So we have lots of collaboration with the business then. Then look at how we can implement it together.


S: Ok. So you have reached these insights and opportunities from that data that you got through the research. So those insights and opportunities now present what would ultimately be a problem that we can dig our teeth into it and try and solve. Is that correct?


V: Absolutely


S: Ok so now if we were to select 1 or 2 of those opportunities that you found out through that synthesis process what would my next step be?


V: Ok so then once you have got that opportunity you will work with the client and you would do a thing called ideation. So the opportunity becomes a question we call a how might we question. So how might we be obviously open ended. The question is open ended and the might is very positive. And the we expresses collaboration. So how might we solve X? Then you take that question and you brainstorm around it. The brainstorming is part of the process where, so the whole process of design thinking, your thinking goes outwards it goes open and open to ideas and open to receiving information and then it narrows down and focuses and chips away something and refines it and then it opens out again and this ideation is the point which you open out again. So you have focused in to find out this opportunity is the one we wanna look at now. You open out into ideation and say what are all the possibilities in the universe and this is the point where you wanna encourage people to think freely and don’t sensor themselves and just go for it. Even when you think it’s completely impossible to do the idea that you are putting across. Even if you think it’s a bit stupid, if you feel silly, it’s really a time we wanna encourage that playfulness, creativity not boxing yourself in. And then after that once you have done that you have gone wild with your ideas you have just splashed color and thoughts everywhere then you can narrow down a bit and say which of these ideas do we think is going to be something we can work with.


S: I love that, because I think through that process is where true innovation starts to really happen and those disruptive solutions and products and services are ideated and come up with during that process.


V: Yes of free thinking.


S: Yes.


V: And I think typically we humans. In adults should I say. In business especially we want to narrow down all things. We want to say no to  things. We want to criticize things. And so people feel very uncomfortable about going “ok here is my idea”. I’m putting it out there.


S: A big shut down 


V: Exactly. It’s a scary space. So the more you can practice that. No matter what business you are in, what you are trying to do. Putting your ideas out there. Even if you are afraid. I was going to say without fear. But it’s not that. You can be afraid but you can still got to do it and that encourages that mind set.


S: Right. So we reach this point then in the process where we have got multiple ideas  and then as you said you start to narrow that down to maybe the one idea or few ideas. You know, what do we do from that point going forward?


V: Ok so when you have chosen an idea that you think is worth having a look at. You will then go into a broader area called prototyping and I think this is also. I started off this conversation by saying that design thinking is about staying in touch with the humans you are designing the solution for. Another massive principle of design thinking is doing things, trying things, failing, improving refining and not sitting around talking about it or thinking about it too much. Or analyzing whether it’s not going to work, but trying a very basic low fidelity  version of your solution and that’s what prototyping is. So when I say basic it could be a piece of cardboard and some glue. But basically you want  in the quickest cheapest, easiest way possible you want to build something that is going to allow you to test your solution with the people that are going to benefit from it.


S: Right.


V: So if that’s a piece of card and a pipe cleaner, brilliant. You need to mock it on a digital platform? Great!  As long as you are not spending hours and weeks and months investing in this thing only to find they are not interested. The whole basis behind it is get your ideas out there quickly, fail quickly, improve it quickly and cheaply.


S: So how many times would you iterate on something like a prototype. Is there a standard to this? Or is it?


V: Gosh. I don’t know of a golden number. Every time you iterate you getting closer and closer to a solution. So I think it would be better to say “at what point do you feel you are ready”? You have done enough iterations. That you are reasonably confident you can take something to the market, invest money in it and it’s going to have some success.


S: Well in terms of prototyping as well. What is expected? You mentioned its low fidelity. So what is expected in terms of how quickly you could iterate on something and then re test it with the market? I mean, my understanding is that you want that as short and as quick as possible.


V: Absolutely. So you wanna be doing this quickly. I think for as long as you can make contact with the right humans which sometimes is more logistically challenging than actually creating the prototype. Once you can get a range tape to get in front of those humans I think that the thing that is mostly holding back and obviously creating I think. And I mean you asked about how many times you would iterate? And obviously as you were iterating each cycle you would be coming closer and closer to the real version. So your first one might be card and paper. Your final one might be made out of palomar I don’t know, I’m not very good at editorial.


S: 3d printing


V: Yes. Or a version of an app, an actual real and some development. And some thoughts have gone into it. Because the closer you get to it the more confident you are that this is something that is going to be desirable to people so you are willing to invest more money in it.


S: Right. Ok so that prototype and testing happens when you reach this point where you believe you have a product that is desirable which is essentially what you have been testing through this process. What happens at that point? I mean is the process finished now?


V: Well I think this is definitely a great conversation. I think a lot of people think it is like that and to be honest with you it’s never finished. Some people don’t like hearing that. But really if you are taking on a design thinking approach to business or anything you should be thinking that this is ongoing. So design thinking it’s not linear, it does not have a beginning, middle and end. Cyclical you go through research, you go through creativity phases, you go through refining phases and you go through more research because you are testing. So if you put a vision of your  solution to the market and people are buying it, you still wanna be refining it and you still wanna be making it better and even if you thought it was brilliant, in a few years from now people’s needs have changed so you have to change with them. 


S: Right.


V: So you always having to stay in touch with the market and you refine your solution feather and that’s, look at Apple. The best example often referred to Apple when talking about design thinking and this kind of process because they never rest in coming up with a refined, a new solution, a new approach.


S: Right, so in your mind are there any examples where you have seen design thinking that has been really successful or maybe there are industries where you think design thinking could have an enormous impact if it was used successfully in those industries. Maybe that’s an easier way to ask the question.


V: Look, I think any industry where humans are going to benefit from the solution, can apply design thinking, should apply design thinking. I will give you and example that i really like to refer to, i might remember this a bit wrong, but there was a cancer hospital in the states and somebody realized that the journey of a cancer patient when visiting a hospital was so odious and so unpleasant that they decided to say ok, let’s have a look at this and let’s just actually see how we can improve this. And I believe Toyota was involved. They brought somebody in from Toyota, they took a long ball of wool, or a ball of string and they traveled the journey of a patient to the hospital on a consultation visit. And the amount of string, the length of the string that they found that this person had to travel in each visit was just astounding. So basically the up-shore of it was that they redesigned the hospital, before they had all the specialist rooms on the outside so they got all the natural light, and then the patients from inside in the dark. So they redesigned it to put all the patients’ areas on the outside, the hospital getting  that natural light which is obviously very good for your health. And they just drastically reduced the journey that the patient has to go through. They looked at it from a patient’s point of view basically. And they ended up with a very successful hospital.


S: That’s a great story  


V: I think all industries can look at it. 


S: Anyone who has people that are using the product.


V: Exactly 


S: Ok thanks Vikee, I really appreciate your time. And I hope that the understanding of people out there of design thinking is advanced by your explanation. 


V: Me too.


S: And I really appreciate your time. Thanks 


V: Thanks Stu.


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