How Design Thinking Is Different from Traditional Problem-Solving

In its essence, Design Thinking is a centered way of solving a problem. The Design Thinking process that helps you make things better by following these steps:

  • Think about what people need (Empathize)
  • Understand the issue at hand (Define)
  • Arrive at the best idea (Ideate)
  • Make an actionable plan (Prototype)
  • Try it out and see how it works (Test)

The concept of Design Thinking is the optimism that everyone can be a part of creating a better world. As a culture, this is seeing positive and widespread adoption. To understand this shift, let us look at certain growth indicators in the arena of Design Thinking.

  • A study by the Design Management Institute found that design-driven companies had outperformed the S&P 500 by 228% over a 10-year period.
  • In a study by IDEO, companies that used Design Thinking were 4X likely to see significant growth in revenue over a 3-year period.
  • 50% of design-led companies are equipped with a more loyal customer base.

The perks look promising. The examples are evident. It does make one wonder if the Design Thinking vs traditional thinking argument holds any merit. Is it a profitability tool or something more? Let’s debate this!

More Than a Profitability Tool

Design Thinking is more than just a tool for driving profitable businesses because it is a mindset or approach that can be applied to a wide range of problems and situations, not just business-related ones. 

For example, Design Thinking can be applied to healthcare to improve patient outcomes, in education to create more effective learning experiences, in government to make public services more user-friendly, and in non-profit organizations to create more impactful programs. It can also be applied to personal life, to help individuals to tackle their problems and design their life in a more meaningful manner.

Solve the Symptom or Remove the Root Cause?

When people solve for symptoms rather than understanding the root cause the underlying problem remains unaddressed. This approach can lead to a cycle of recurring issues, as well as wasted time and resources. For instance, a society might address crime by increasing policing, rather than addressing the underlying social issues such as poverty and lack of education.

It is important to understand that the root cause of a problem is often complex and multi-faceted, and requires an in-depth understanding of the problem and its context. The Design Thinking approach promotes a deep understanding of the problem by empathizing with the users and by defining the problem statement in a human-centered way, which will lead to a holistic solution. 

This is where Design Thinking and traditional problem solving shows a stark contrast with each other. Let’s dive a little deeper. 

Understanding the Key Dissimilarities
  • The Empathy Emphasis

One of the looming differences between Design Thinking and traditional problem-solving is the emphasis on empathy and understanding the user. In Design Thinking, the designer puts themselves in the user’s shoes and tries to understand their needs, pain points, and desires. This allows the designer to come up with solutions that are tailored to the user’s needs, rather than solutions that simply solve the problem at hand.

  • The Intelligence of Iterations

Another difference is the iterative nature of Design Thinking. In Design Thinking, the designer goes through multiple rounds of ideation, prototyping, and testing before arriving at a final solution. This allows for a more flexible and agile approach to problem-solving, as the designer can make adjustments and improvements based on feedback from users and stakeholders.

  • The Culture of Collaboration

Design Thinking also encourages collaboration and diversity of perspectives. In a Design Thinking process, multiple stakeholders and team members are involved in the problem-solving process, bringing different perspectives and skills to the table. This helps to ensure that the final solution takes into account the needs and concerns of all stakeholders. Let’s understand with an example. 

P&G – The Problem of Pampers – A Brief Case Study

An example of a brand that switched from traditional problem-solving to design thinking is Procter & Gamble (P&G). P&G is a consumer goods company known for its large portfolio of household and personal care products. Historically, P&G relied on traditional problem-solving methods to develop new products, such as market research and focus groups. However, in the early 2000s, the company recognized that this approach was not always delivering the desired results.

P&G’s development of a new type of disposable diaper, called Pampers Dry Max is a case study in Design Thinking. The company’s designers and engineers conducted extensive research on the needs of parents and babies, and used this information to create a new design that was thinner and more absorbent than previous diapers, without sacrificing performance. The result was a product that was well-received by parents and helped P&G maintain its leadership position in the disposable diaper market.

This change in approach not only led to more successful products, but also helped P&G to become more agile and responsive to changing consumer needs. The company continues to use design thinking in its product development process today.

Summing Up

While Design Thinking and traditional problem-solving methods may seem vastly different, they can actually be complementary. Design Thinking can be a valuable tool for generating creative and user-centered solutions, while traditional problem-solving methods can be used to evaluate and optimize those solutions. 

Design Thinking, as seen in private universities in Karnataka, can be seen as a powerful tool to drive positive change in society and improve the lives of individuals and communities. This is why the paradigm shift from traditional problem solving is a sine-qua-non today.


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