DEFINING THE SECOND STEP IN THE DESIGN THINKING PROCESS
Grand Valley State University/UNAN Managua (UNITED STATES)
The author has taught Design Thinking in several locations and countries. One of the great challenges is defining the problem. People often choose large problems like water, sustainability, alternative energy, etc. A good list of broad topics is that found in the Sustainability Goals of UNESCO for 2030. For several years, participants in workshops and students could choose these large topics and work on them. Unfortunately, it almost always turned into a disaster with few useful ideas.
While working with a local corporation, team members pointed out that you need to start doing one thing for one person. This made a real impression, and since then, students and participants have been pushed to define the problem in more and more detail. Thus, if you want to work on alternative power for hospitals in Malawi, you need to focus in on a hospital. Recently, a student did exactly that and realized that her specific hospital was connected to the grid and had solar power, but still faced problems such as the lights going out during a surgery. She set to work to resolve the problem.
At a workshop in Mulukuku, Nicaragua, the theme was water. The topic is way too big as water problems can quickly be divided into many areas. For example, quantity, access, grey water, farm animal maintenance, irrigation water, water usage, patio or garden usage, to name a few. If you focus on quality, then you can look at cleanliness as in color, and how much stuff is in the water such as sticks, leaves, garbage, bugs, fish, mud, and more. You could look at types of contamination such as biological contamination (animals, humans), Arsenic, other heavy metals, chemical contamination, etc. In the Mulukuku water, there was all of these in one place or another and a specific chemical causing Leukemia, particularly in children.
At the end of the first day, the worksheets of ideas from empathy were reviewed. Participants were saying that this was a big problem that belonged to the state, the city, the universities, anyone but taking ownership of the problem and keeping the problem definition big. If participants can keep the problem big, they do not have to take ownership and they can throw generalities on the wall as solutions. You must make the problem small and specific to come up with realistic solutions.
On day two in Mulukuku, participants were encouraged to own the problem and think about their house and neighborhood, or a house, or a specific neighborhood. This changed everything as they attempted to come up with systems to change the lives right around them.
This paper covers the problem of definition in the Design Thinking Model as advanced by Stanford University D School. It builds on a paper entitled, “Empathy: The First Step in Design Thinking” given at ICERI in 2017. It explains how to make the problems’ definition more focused using examples from past experiences. If focuses on classroom use of the Design Thinking Process with some examples from the international work, as in the above-cited Mulukuku case.
Definition is one of the difficult things to learn in the Design Thinking Process. Reaching all the way back to the early Wicked Problems courses, this was a challenge and remains a challenge today for those trying to work through the model. This paper is a pedagogical explanation of definition as used in various academic settings. A clear and concise definition is the step that needs to follow Empathy in the Design Thinking process.