APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

Creating User-Focused Solutions with Design Thinking Methods

By Allison Philips 
Senior Copywriter and Edge Contributor

In today’s changing society, organizations must find ways to meet the needs of customers and employees while developing products and services. Design thinking is a methodology for creating user-focused, technological solutions that can help leaders to drive innovation in their organizations. This approach provides non-designers with the opportunity to utilize creative tools to deal with any number of business challenges.

Dr. Tonia Parker, the University’s department chair for psychology, states, “Design thinking is interdisciplinary and brings a human-centered approach to solving problems and developing products, services, and processes. Many of its tenets originated out of cognitive psychology and anthropology, but the process was refined over time by people in design studies, engineering, urban planning, and computer science to what it has become today.

“Today, design thinking is used in pretty much every industry to identify needs, redefine difficult problems, create innovative solutions and help organizations run more efficiently. It’s about getting people to think outside of the box.”

The Three Pillars of Design Thinking

The three pillars of design thinking are inspiration, ideation and implementation. Dr. Parker notes, “These pillars are encompassed in a five-phase process. Inspiration comes from the empathy phase, where the people using design thinking observe the users of a product, service, or process with empathy and without judgment to see what the needs are and where pain points might be. The idea is to really dig in and understand how and why something is used.

“Ideation is seen in the next two phases, which are to define and contextualize the problem based on observation and to collaborate as a group to brainstorm ideas and solutions. Everything is on the table.

“After brainstorming solutions, implementation comes next. A prototype of a solution is quickly developed and then tested by the people who will be using it to make sure it works and to identify any bugs that need to be worked out.

“The process of design thinking is iterative, so it may be necessary to go back to earlier stages to solve issues that might have been identified in testing until everyone is satisfied with the solution. The goal is to identify the best solution based on user needs and trial-and-error, rather than blindly creating and implementing a solution and waiting to see if it is going to work.”

New Design Thinking Certificate Program Is Now Available

The University recently launched an online graduate certificate in design thinking. This new academic program will provide online students from all disciplines with an overview of data-driven design thinking.

Students who take the classes for this certificate will gain an understanding of how design thinking fosters innovation and transformation. The certificate will also cover leaders’ roles in developing strategies for organizational change, methodologies for collecting data on customer/user needs and experiences, and the application of design thinking principles to organizational challenges.

“The certificate in design thinking is meant to get students familiar with the process and develop skills that allow them to get out there and implement it in whatever field they work in. Design thinking is interdisciplinary and used in every industry, including business, design, engineering, creative arts, education, manufacturing, finance, healthcare, marketing, technology, sales, and journalism.

“Anyone who has a problem to solve can benefit from design thinking. This program is meant to provide students with design thinking knowledge and skills in a short amount of time, so that they can take it back to their organizations and implement it quickly,” emphasizes Dr. Parker.

Related link: 3 Major Ways to Manage a Culture Change in Your Organization

Design Thinking’s Potential Impact on Organizational Strategy after COVID-19

Our design thinking certificate offers students a potential approach to creating practical solutions to alleviate some of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Parker adds, “The pandemic introduced a new set of problems that many organizations had not anticipated or planned for. Even those that had planned in some way for a pandemic were faced with challenges they couldn’t have anticipated until it happened.

“For instance, businesses had to shift to remote work. Healthcare providers were dealing with overwhelming need as well as the need to implement telehealth services, which many providers had never done.

“Policymakers had to figure out everything ­– from when and how to implement safety protocols to quickly passing new regulations and legislation to allow for things like telehealth services and remote legal proceedings. Education had to shift to remote learning, which was entirely new to many institutions both at the K-12 level and higher education.

“Manufacturers had to deal with supply issues that inhibited their ability to manufacture or repair products, which caused more supply problems down the supply chain. Organizations providing essential services had to figure out how to continue operating and keep their people safe. Parents had to navigate working from home or being unemployed, while also taking care of their children since childcare services weren’t available.

“All of these are problems that can be addressed using design thinking. It gives people a road map for where to start and how to get to a workable solution, especially when the problems are moving targets and difficult to define.”

She adds, “People and organizations that use design thinking are forward-thinking, innovative, and able to move things from brainstorming to implementing solutions in a way that is more likely to be successful. Developing these skills will better position students for identifying and solving problems on the job and in their daily lives.”

Related link: COVID-19’s Impact Ushered in a New Era of Crisis Management

Allison Philips has over a decade of experience covering education, financial services, technology, travel and healthcare industries. Her work has appeared in campaigns for clients such as AARP, Audi, Bloomberg BNA, Blue Shield, Burger King, Citibank, Marriott, Oracle, American Military University and American Public University.

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