November 17, 2017 What is design thinking and how does it affect content?

By Emma Hardy

A man thinking of a design

At Avion Communications, we do a lot of work around user experience. Getting real human insights and being able to test the content we create really gets us going. But when it comes to user testing, there’s a lot more than what we can see from the surface. That’s where design thinking comes in. Put simply, design thinking is a human-centric method for solving complex problems.

Find the problem you’re looking for

Before we can find a solution, design thinking asks us to consider the problem in front of us. Usually, problems fall into two categories: tame or wicked.

Tame problems can be easily expressed and have a solution. We can test these problems easily, and they usually have a true or false answer. You can think of these as technical problems, like fixing a machine. Whether replacing a part works or not is a simple yes/no solution.

Another tame problem might be that you’re hungry. You can test a lot of ways to solve that problem, but ultimately there’s only one solution: eating. There are creative ways to approach tame problems (ever heard of rainbow bagels?), but the problem and solution are reasonably methodical and can be replicated time and time again.

Wicked problems are another ballpark. They don’t have one singular answer, but a multitude of potential solutions, which shift and change over time. There’s rarely a perfect answer to a wicked problem. Instead, there are various ‘better’ and ‘closer’ answers.

Think like a (good) designer

As Steve Jobs once said, ‘design isn’t just what it looks like, it’s how it works’. In order to find solutions to our wicked problems, we have to change the way that we think about problems. Design thinking methodology follows a simple formula to tackle not-so-simple problems:

  1. Empathise: understand the wants and needs of the users involved in the problem. (At Avion, we call this taking a human-centric approach.)
  2. (Re)define: redefine the question based on our discoveries through empathising.
  3. Ideate: start brainstorming potential solutions.
  4. Prototype: design thinking is about action, so create mock-ups and share them with your team.
  5. Test: release your idea to the world, then test to see what works and what doesn’t.

In practice, we’re likely to jump back and forth between stages as we redefine problems, test ideas that don’t work and come up with better and better solutions. This isn’t a bad thing! That’s how we improve.

Approach old problems in new ways

Many of the problems our clients come to us with at Avion are wicked problems. They might seem like something small and easily solvable, but once we start digging deeper, we quickly realise that there’s a whole minefield of opportunities underneath the surface. Design thinking asks us to reframe the question. That means actively interrogating the problems that we’re trying to solve.

For example, lots of our clients come to us looking for blog posts. They have a blog and they need content to keep it updated. The initial questions underlying the blog might be:

  • How do we get more traffic to our site?
  • How do we sell more health and wellbeing products?

Sounds like a simple solution—until we interrogate it further. Once we start empathising and defining, the human-centric problems might be:

  • I want to provide and care for my family
  • My child is sick and I want to make sure they’re okay

While blog content might help a user solve these problems, it’s certainly not the only solution. By empathising and redefining, we start getting more interesting problems (and consequently, more interesting answers!).

Iterate, reiterate and re-reiterate

When it comes to content, one way of integrating design thinking is to always see your content as a work in progress. There’s no such thing as set and forget. That’s part of the beauty of digital content—it’s responsive to our adaptations over time. You can constantly improve and remodel your website, blog or app.

Recently, we partnered with AITSL to roll out new content for their ReWeb project (you can read more about the project in our case study). By shifting the focus away from business needs and towards user-needs, we were able to deliver a vastly different (and greatly improved) website. However, the work didn’t end there. We provided a series of testing options that the ReWeb team at AITSL continue to test. Through testing, we can prove and disprove our assumptions about users, and get increasingly closer to a final product that has human-centred design at its core.

It’s important to remember that that process is never ending. What works best for users today might be different tomorrow.

If you’d like to bring content creators who bring a strategic and human-centred approach to every project, contact our talented team at Avion Communications today.