By Kristy Newton, Digital Literacies Coordinator at UOW Library / Design Thinking Facilitator.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or @librariano on Twitter.
What is design thinking and why is it useful for libraries?
Design thinking is an iterative, human centred methodology for creative problem solving. It is a method that prioritises user needs throughout the development process and emphasises a mindset shift from “How do we?” to “How might we?”. Rather than starting from a pre-determined solution, the process generates a range of ideas and solutions to choose from.
Design thinking is a really valuable tool for libraries to use in developing innovative resources or services and gaining a stronger understanding of their client base. The understanding of client needs is particularly critical – after all, there’s no point in basing your service model around the best and tastiest oranges you can find, if what your client really wants and needs is apples. In terms of increasing the capacity for innovative practice, design thinking allows staff to take the focus off common roadblocks such as being stuck in discussing what has worked well (or not so well) in the past. Instead, staff are empowered to engage in a proactive exploration of what has the potential to work well now and into the future, using the current contexts, client and staff needs, and potential resources as valuable sources of data to aid in developing new solutions.
As an example from my own institution, design thinking has been used at UOW Library to illustrate the potential for new library services, to assess and redevelop team practices, to explore themes emerging from staff or student feedback, and develop a wide range of support resources.
5 primary phases of design thinking
There are five primary phases of the design thinking process, and it is common to cycle between the phases throughout the development and implementation of a solution to a design problem. Design thinking is an ongoing process of refinement and adjustment, but does not mean that you never reach a solution. Rather, you shift your attitude to embrace the perspective that your users, ideas, and solutions are continually evolving.
Note: there are multiple models of design thinking and the language may vary between the models, but the essential core of the practice remains consistent through the various models.
This phase focuses on understanding the needs of the people in a given situation. This might be Library clients like students, staff, or community members.
Once you understand the various needs and perspectives of the people you are designing for, you can define a design question. This will be the anchor point for all the work you do from this point forwards. It should be derived from your understanding of the people you look at in the Empathise phase.
E.g If during the empathise phase you found that many people were confused about who to ask for help with their assessments, your design question might be “How might we increase understanding of the assessment support available at [your institution]?”.
Note that this is different from “How might we help people with their assessments?” (too broad) or “How might we advertise our Library research workshops?” (too specific).
This phase focuses on generating multiple ideas for ways to address the design question. A creative, blue-sky approach is best here, and participants should avoid trying to move to solution mode too quickly. No idea is too crazy during the Ideate phase.
This phase focuses on choosing the most appropriate idea from the Ideate phase and starting to “build” it. This can take a physical form, or it might be more of a documentation of the details of an idea.
E.g. If your idea was to develop an app that linked together all the support services that can help students with their assessments, you could develop a working prototype, or a series of visual mock-ups. This phase involves fleshing out the details of the idea, considering how it will work for the user, and how they will interact with it.
This phase focuses on getting real time feedback for your idea – putting it out into the world and seeing how it works in action. The feedback gathered during this phase often starts the cycle over again. You need to consider how the solution works for the intended user, and address any issues through mini-cycles of the Ideate and Prototype phases. This is similar to beta testing.
Where to get started with design thinking
There are a variety of training opportunities for anyone interested in learning more about design thinking. Sites like LinkedIn Learning offer several self paced online options and a quick Google will often reveal local opportunities for facilitated training with an experienced practitioner. Good places to start also include organisations like IDEO, and the Stanford d-School that have a great range of online resources available.
Regardless of how you choose to begin learning about the methods, it’s important to remember is that design thinking is a practice that requires engagement to truly experience the benefits. Within the structure of the five phases, there are many sub-skills like effective questioning techniques and creative ideation methods that enhance the practice of design thinking. If you or your colleagues are interested in exploring design thinking, forming a group with whom you can practice the methodology as you learn will be really valuable.
So get in there, start learning, and let us know how you go by sharing your experiences with the hashtag #MyDigiDex !