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The Who in Design Thinking

Katy Grennier, DSIL Global

It's not just about the design process, it's about who is in it from the start that will make it work.

As the design thinking process travels into new fields it continues to pave a path to a new future—a future we believe in wholeheartedly.

The process itself organically brings about a higher engagement than processes before it and asks everyone involved to let go of control by asking to allow in more complexity and diversity in people, ideas and experiences. The result?

A solution that works better--and usually uses fewer resources!! Win-Win right? Yes…..if you trust the process among all the ambiguity thinking brings. Also, WHO is working together throughout the process is a critical piece of helping the process move towards success.

So who exactly do you include in the design thinking process?

It’s a great question and one that gets skipped over quite a bit in this field which can be hard to believe since innovation needs people to create it.

Who you include should be intentional, and insist on including different lens rather than experts in the same field. By design, we find that more durable innovation emerges at the intersections of ideas- not down expert rabbit holes we have been digging for so long ago. Here are a few other questions to think about as you think about with WHO belongs.

  • Who can add depth of experiences (lived and studied) and a variety of technical views to the challenge we are about to tackle?

  • Who has resources, values, power, no power, in this challenge?

  • Who, by their absence, may stop an innovation from being implemented after the process if they are not apart of it?

  • Who cares about this? Who do they know who cares about it?

  • Who is invested in the end goal?

  • Who haven’t you thought about?

  • Who would be a dream to have along the way?

  • Is there a phase when we need to invite in more people/groups?

  • Who is creative, organized, precise- you need all of those people

  • Who are we missing?

  • Who is affected, or could be affected by the new design?

  • Who, realistically, has time?

Our teams have got in the habit of inviting people outside of our company onto our design teams, and not just because it’s important to build the capacity of the world in co-creation processes like this as we go. We also do it because it never fails to help DSIL grow in skill while creating solutions that are as simple as possible and resilient.

Constructing a diverse design team will allow you to build a faster holistic-systems lens throughout the process, from understanding the entire system by first hearing how it works at its many different levels. The more we can see the whole system, the more gaps (and bias) we can spot in our thinking. Not coincidentally, fewer gaps equal sustainability triumphs. Keeping a systems lens in design teams is where it’s at.

No matter what you are trying to design, avoiding the current system in which the challenge lives will shallow the result. Meaningful and useful innovations emerge when you can stand in that reality and also above it, to the side of it or below it.

Design Hack: Different skills and perspectives are important. Equally important is looking for people who are invested in the innovation that the process will produce. Find people who are open to experimenting with others as well as seem open to changes that new solutions will bring. This is no small task--collaboration is hard work and may require conversations and some explanation about the process on the front end. A great design facilitator is a helpful inclusion in projects so thye can help keep the team on track and honest about not being led by one or two people’s bias. It’s especially a good idea when you are first practicing co-creation process like design thinking.

Some people don’t want to be at the table and it doesn’t mean they don’t care. Sometimes it means that they just don’t have time.

Get practical and involve people who are able to show up and be invested in the time it takes to go through processes. The stronger your team, and the more they trust each other, the better the result. That means they have to show up!

“intention is a mental state representing commitment for the future, a state which requires planning and forethought, the very foundations of successful design.”

Remember not to forget that people in the process are fundamentally linked to it’s success. Whatever you do, find the time and always, always start with people. Even if you realize someone else should be involved halfway through, invite them! There is no time like the present.

That’s what makes design thinking fun! It’s one big puzzle you can’t do alone.

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