Design thinking is a technique used by companies large and small to provide their end-users with easy experiences that satisfy and delight. You’re also likely to see it in any quality design bootcamp curriculum. But what is Design Thinking? Rylan Clark, Springboard Mentor and UX Consultant, walks us through the five phases of Design Thinking, how it is used in industry, and answers the question: can you effectively learn Design Thinking at a bootcamp?
Rylan’s formal education is in psychology and behavioral research. He’s worked in UX and Design Thinking for over ten years now, primarily as a researcher but also as a designer. He recently co founded and currently serves as COO of The UXology Group, a consulting firm specializing in user experience research.
Rylan has also been a Springboard mentor for two years. Rylan says he “looked closely at the competition but chose Springboard because they had the best curriculum and most professional front line staff. I believe in Springboard because it works and some of my students land pretty stellar jobs after graduating.”
Why is mentorship important to Rylan? “I want to make sure that I help other people advance their careers quickly and efficiently the way that I was able to. I firmly believe in what we do at Springboard. What we're teaching people is a better way to build products and services. I want the students I mentor to be able to go out into the industry and make an impact by helping to transform the marketplace into a more human-centered experience.”
Design thinking is a philosophy for building better products and services. It is about empathizing with end-users, ideating around what they really want and need based on research, prototyping your best ideas and then testing them against that user base. This approach helps optimize the user experience because it makes sure that you're on track and on target with what you're delivering before you put a ton of time and resources into launching a product.
There are 5 Steps to the Design Thinking process:
Empathize – The first phase is all about putting yourself in the shoes of your end-users and seeing the offering through their eyes and perspectives. That entails some up front exploratory research. You might be interviewing end-users, observing them, using demographics, and studying as much about them as you can to truly understand their needs, pain points and relative expectations.
Defining – You start to narrow down the possibilities of how you're going to meet the needs, pain points and expectations of your users.
Ideate – You'll brainstorm a wide variety of potential solutions based on what you defined in the last step. At this point, you're starting to converge upon a handful of testable ideas (aka hypotheses).
Prototype – Build a working representation of your best ideas. Note that it’s a best practice to pit the top contenders against each other for testing in the next step.
Test – You actually put the prototypes in front of end-users in order to systematically identify what will work best by eliciting their feedback and observing their reactions. Collectively, this all helps to guide your design process and provide more informed product decisions.
The most popular tools for prototyping used in the business world (and taught at Springboard) are Figma, Sketch, and Invision. They're relatively easy to learn how to use, they're effective, and these technical skills will translate readily to the jobs that Springboard students pursue.
You can apply Design Thinking to literally any product where there is a significant user experience problem to solve. Rylan has worked on physical and digital products of all kinds, even in-person experiences in factories, hospitality and retail settings. It's an extremely flexible framework to apply to design problems.
In our courses at Springboard, we ground Design Thinking in something real and practical by giving students the opportunity to do real world project under the watchful eye of one of their mentors, whom they meet with on a weekly basis.
In our Intro to Design offering, which lasts four weeks or so, they'll actually go through each stage of the Design Thinking process and by the time they finish this accelerated program, they have a prototype that's been user tested with their customer base. In our more in-depth UX Career Track, which lasts roughly 9 months and is guaranteed to get you a job, some students go on to launch their own startup based on what they created in their coursework.
As humans, we've been building and selling products for thousands of years but Design Thinking only came about by name a few decades ago. Why? It’s a newly evolved set of best practices that emerged specifically to overcome the weaknesses of traditional ways of bringing products to market. Remember, you can always build something without doing diligent design, and you can design without doing any real research, but adding those additional layers of design and research is what elevates you above the old way of doing things. It takes a lot of the risk out of delivering a product or service to the marketplace which can be quite an expensive and pitfall-prone endeavor.
Remember that this is all quite new to the business world. Most of the work that happens in the marketplace is people saying they need an app that does a specific function and then they build it. But they skip over all of these Design Thinking steps. They don't truly empathize with their customer base beyond lip service and high level surveys, they don't talk to them throughout the development process, they're not testing their prototypes to the nth degree like we do in Design Thinking. They're jumping straight to the solution, building it, shipping it rather quickly, and skipping over the due diligence. There's a lot of risk in that approach and it worked ok for a long time but the most successful product teams are embracing this new way of doing things.
No one is actually hiring Design Thinkers – that's not a job title. They're hiring people that know how to do Design Thinking with job titles along the lines of UX, UI, or design research. There are organizations that have tried to specifically capitalize on the popularity of this approach over the years; Ideo in particular has done it quite successfully.
Almost every company on the Fortune 500 list is doing Design Thinking to some degree. Some of these companies have big design teams and some don’t, instead relying on a less centralized design organization or by engaging with consultants for big projects. It's largely a function of how important it is to deliver a satisfying, easy, and delightful experience to their customers. Think about the most addictive products out there right now in media, software, and entertainment for instance. You'll see that those companies happen to have the largest design teams per capita. They're creating the best and most successful products because they're applying these processes relentlessly day in and day out and they know exactly what their customer wants and needs.
You'll see the same approach operating under different names at different companies. It might be user experience design, human-centered design, user-centered design or customer-centric design. There are minor differences in how those are applied, but you’re essentially using the scientific method and observation-based research to some degree and approaching product design in a more thoughtful way.
10 years ago and even 5 years ago I would answer that question differently than I would now. Back in those days, I valued formal education a lot more. It was the early days of the field of UX and, at the time, I felt like that was the best route.
But after interfacing with thousands of different types of people at these businesses that I worked with, I saw that you didn't particularly need a formal education to succeed in a role like this. There were a lot of people coming at it from other fields like marketing, product management, customer support, research, and/or fine arts. You name it! I’ve even seen operations and salespeople pivot successfully to UX. Yes, education on the fundamentals is important here as it is with anything, but practical experience is the name of the game and we emphasize both at Springboard.
What else do you cover in Springboard’s Intro to Design curriculum?
Our curriculum is mostly hands-on and it's highly practical. It's built to be immersive so that you're not watching lectures and taking tests. You're doing almost exactly the opposite. You're learning and then you're applying that in every unit on a real-world type project.
The course consists of 8 units and students go through it themselves and submit their projects exactly the way they would in a real job to their boss or their colleagues. Then, the mentor grades it for them and we talk through what they did well, what they might want to do better next time, and how this would actually work in various types of job settings.
Students get weekly feedback from their mentors, each of whom is currently a working design professional which differentiates this program from the self-paced online or self-learning programs that are free. This mentor help is huge because you get a high-touch experience from someone who has been at the six-figure income level for many years.
Does this course include career prep and help students enter the design world?
Yes, our Intro to Design course serves as a foundational career prep. Graduates will be able to add this course to their resumes, use it to create a portfolio, and gear up technically to take the next step. Springboard does offer other career tracks with job guarantees that students could move on to after this intro course.
This course is meant to be an immersive way to dip your toes into Design Thinking. Students should be able to decipher whether this is something they want to pursue as a career through this course. The more in-depth career tracks are essentially a more practical, hands-on accelerated version of a master's degree. I mentor those too!
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