Common sense would lead you to believe that “design thinking” involves thinking like a designer — in this case, usually a product, industrial or graphic designer. But if you research the concept further, you’ll find numerous long-form articles, books, businesses and crash courses all built around the idea of design thinking. Everyone from entrepreneurs and engineers to farmers and regular Joes are using the design thinking process to create healthy habits, achieve their goals and tackle life’s dilemmas. You can, too.
What Design Thinking Looks Like
The New York Times recently broke design thinking down into five simplified steps:
- Empathize: Learn what issue needs to be solved
- Define the problem: This can be tougher than it looks
- Ideate: Brainstorm, write down ideas, make lists and come up with possible solutions
- Build: Start making a prototype or creating a plan
- Test: Seek feedback from others while testing your prototype
Let’s take a look at how these principles can be applied to your everyday life and work.
Conquer Procrastination: Just Try It With Prototypes
Many people assume that designers are creative. While this is certainly true, in reality, it’s not the driving force behind great designers. Design thinking involves overcoming the fear of failure. Industrial designers often create rapid prototypes using cheaper materials than the final product, which enables them to save money and time and also get the project in motion. Even if the first few prototypes are scrapped, there are undoubtedly takeaways that can be applied to each new model.
This type of thinking can be applied to help with procrastination. Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago, tells Psychology Today there are three types of procrastination:
- Arousal types, or thrill-seekers
- Decisional procrastinators who cannot make a decision
- Avoiders who are the most common type and generally avoid their fear of failure or even success
This video illustrates how fear is the main factor behind procrastination. People don’t realize they are often avoiding that term paper, quarterly report or buying a gift for a loved one because they are afraid that they will fail if it’s not perfect or that the people involved will be dissatisfied with the results.
Instead of being conquered by fear, think like a designer. Whatever problem or assignment you’re procrastinating, make a prototype by dividing the tasks into small chunks and tackling the first one. Getting started often leads to a confidence boost as you recall successes from the past.
Take Criticism Well: Thrive on Feedback
Designers must take and apply feedback on every project. It is important for them to establish a positive collaboration environment with their clients. Instead of dreading it, they expect it; they may even be lost without it. Taking criticism well, whether it’s constructive, rash or misplaced, is a huge advantage for your professional and personal well being.
Douglas Stone, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and co-author of “Thanks for the Feedback,” provides three reasons people take criticism poorly:
- It may seem wrong or unfair
- They dislike or disrespect the person giving it
- It may rock the listener’s sense of identity or security
Designers take feedback and criticism less personally because these three conditions don’t apply. They won’t get far as a designer if they disrespect a client or lose confidence due to feedback. More importantly, criticism can’t be wrong or unfair because the client is trying to satisfy an audience that they understand more than the designer.
Think about this principle when receiving criticism. Where is it coming from? Who is the boss, manager or colleague looking to please? If it still feels misplaced, take the appropriate steps needed. But don’t forget that everyone is trying to please someone other than themselves.
Be a Better Salesman: Visualize With Storytelling
Sales skills are beneficial to nearly all areas of life. Everyone needs to be and is a salesman at some point. Job interviews, romantic or platonic relationships, or just for overall self-confidence and worth: listening, connecting, explaining value and other sales skills all get you closer to your desired result. And thinking about the final result is where design thinking and sales overlap.
Designers have to explain details while relating how overall project goals are being hit. A good piece of design, sales and problem-solving put together is what Samsung did their TV, The Serif. Over the past few years, curved TVs have flirted with popularity thanks to their cool design, but they’re expected to remain subdued in 2016 due to drawbacks like limited viewing angles and exaggerated reflections. Samsung unconventionally collaborated with the French design team Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec to make sure they developed something that had the “cool” feel of curved TVs, and then they sold the it with a sleek video and PR campaign. Fast Company called it a design masterpiece.
Samsung used design thinking to visualize the entire flow of this project and examine how objectives were being met — similar to how great salespeople visualize the end result for motivation and focus. This is key as they present the same or similar sales pitch to different people with different goals.
Think like a designer by focusing on the end result to improve your sales skills. Understand that no matter how awkward or cheesy you may think you sound, genuine passion cannot be hidden. Great salespeople take a genuine interest in whomever they are talking to and uncover their needs. Do the same when a sales opportunity presents itself to you.
Set a Goal For Yourself
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