Design Learning: An Important Asset in Your Decision Making Arsenal

May 30th, 2020

Design Learning: An Important Asset in Your Decision Making Arsenal


Design Learning: An Important Asset in Your Decision Making Arsenal

“The goal is not to simply eliminate the bad, but to pursue and experience the best in the world.” Tim Ferriss

One of the keywords that has been steadily gathering steam in all professional fields is ‘innovation’. This is why many IB school curriculums include modules to tackle this topic. It is the buzzword that many business proposals hinge on and what most employers are looking for when they are hiring new employees. Would you consider yourself an innovative thinker? This might require further probing into the nature of innovation.

In a number of cases innovation is the result of design thinking. While there are now many courses claiming to be design thinking courses, it is a term that is often talked about but maybe not understood very well. If we were to define it we could say that design thinking is a process that encompasses the steps of empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping and testing. It is a significant tool that can strengthen the decision making process in various contexts. According to the UK Design Council, 83% of companies that are design led report an increase in market share at two times what is average for the industry; this statistic gives us a good reason to believe in the merit of this methodology.

Design thinking is preoccupied with challenging yourself to build a better world using a human centred approach. Let us dive into the different stages of the process to further understand how it can lead to better decision making.


Empathy is the first step in the design thinking process, a kind of experiential learning that starts with yourself. Empathy is the ability to understand the contexts and specific situations that other people are facing. Taken further, it is the ability to share their feelings, placing yourself in their shoes. A deeper angle to this is having a keener understanding of oneself. If you are not intimately connected to your motivations, your own decision making process, limits and beliefs, then empathizing with others becomes much harder, since it involves trying to get to know other people. This includes asking yourself questions about who you are, what you want, why you want it, what drives you and on and on.

At this stage, self-awareness holds the key to being able to empathize with people. Self-awareness provides the tools to understanding how to design a solution for the problem and empathy leads to setting aside biases to be able to design better. This is the information gathering stage that will lead to an accumulation of data that will necessitate the next step. An important figure to note here is contributed by Adobe, which reports that 50% of design led companies retain more loyal customers. Thus, we can see that a decision making process that has its roots in a methodology that prioritizes empathy and self-awareness will lead to more informed choices that will lead to more impactful outcomes.


At its heart, design thinking is a problem solving methodology. It is crucial to have a problem to have a springboard to design a solution from. And how that problem is arrived at is a process of defining the problem statement. A good problem statement will pinpoint the gap between the status quo and the desired endpoint of the business, product or service. This stage is where you can establish the features, functions, services etc. that can help you solve the problem. Making the problem statement as human centred as possible is the key. This means it will focus on the end customers and be more people centred rather than business centred. So, the outcome would be a result that is less business driven and it can be designed for the end user. Here is where the insights gathered from the empathy and self-awareness stage will come in useful. Hitting upon a definite problem statement will lead to a natural progression to the next stage. Why defining a problem statement carefully is an important step in the decision making process is that it will lead to a very clear idea of what needs to be tackled in order to progress further.


Stage three of the design thinking process is where things start to become more exciting. Now, you know enough about your target audience and about the problem that is affecting them. And now, you can begin to generate ideas to identify the ideal solution. This is often a very fun process as there are many techniques involved that can lead to many positive outcomes. It also develops higher-order thinking skills. From brainstorming to sketching to picture prompts to semantic intuition, there are a number of techniques to play with here. Bouncing ideas off your colleagues, partners, stakeholders and end users can generate an interesting pool of ideas to draw solutions from.

This is an interesting aspect to the decision making process because it gives you a lot to work with. Many possibilities can be explored thoroughly and this can inject a freshness into the entire exercise. Here, the various solutions can be laid out and the problems can be either attacked or circumvented (circumventing problems is also a key aspect of decision making that should not be overlooked when possibilities are being explored). This is where a lot of creative juice flows from, making it an exciting stage for designers, businesses and all design inclined decision makers.


As per, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand meetings.” The prototyping phase in design thinking is a systematic way to build a number of versions of the products, features or services. The process involves a lot of hands-on learning. It is a stage where the options are explored on a small scale to determine whether they work and if they do, which option works best to answer the problem statement.

It is the stage the often requires testing the chosen solutions out to see which ones will suit the needs of the end user the best. This is a powerful step since a lot of traditional decision making can be unilateral with no emphasis on exploration. At the end of the prototyping exercise, you will have a firmer understanding of how real users would react on interacting with the product or service.

Experimentation is essential to arriving at a decision on a solution that best fits the users’ needs. The more that young professionals and leaders understand this, the better our decision making process and solution based approach will get. So, being exposed to an undertaking like this, where the pros and cons are weighed carefully and opinions of the creators, stakeholders and end users are taken into consideration leads to making decisions that are not just democratic but also objectively the best


In the testing stage, the evaluators will conduct a thorough check or study of the product or service; it can be thought of as research based learning. This is done with the help of the top solutions that were pinpointed in the prototyping stage. The prototype will be used to test the problem statement that was already defined previously. Building a scenario that is as close to the real world problem the user will face is important. This is done to capture the right conditions for optimal data collection.

Now, it is important to let the users interact with the product to be able to see whether they can intuit how to use it. Observing the results and getting the right feedback to further refine the product is another important step in this process. As you can see, the decision making process includes trials involving stakeholders who will be directly affected by the product. This aspect is a salient feature of design thinking and can led to decisions that are based on sound data as well as are the result of a long, iterative process. The outcome will be one that has undergone a long, thoughtful process with many iterations, leading to solutions that resolve problems in an innovative way.

You can see that this entire process, though it is not strictly linear, is one that in deeply involved and terrifically challenging. On the other hand, the outcomes are rich with possibility, well-tested and rewarding in terms of usability and clarity in answering the problem statements. So we wouldn’t be remiss if we said design thinking was a holistic and innovative approach to solving problems, a groundswell of data that can lead you to a more enriching decision making process.

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