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Design Thinking Review

By Casandra Laskowski

Recently, OCLC received additional ILMS funding for a program that uses design thinking to redesign small libraries. Design thinking is showing up in research papers, news articles, and grants. For those already familiar with the concept, this article might be a helpful review. For the rest, it will hopefully provide a simple foundation to build on.

Empathy—Define—Ideate—Prototype—Test. This is one of the more common design thinking frameworks, but it is not the only one. That is because design thinking is a problem-solving method for innovation. Or simply, and a bit oxymoronically, it is a process intended to encourage creativity. There are different frameworks (IBM has their own enterprise model), but one common thread is that the process should be flexible and fluid.

Design thinking is not linear. You can loop back to previous stages, and often do, as new information comes to light. It is an iterative process. Second, design thinking is human-centered. When done well, the process looks at the needs of the ‘user’ (which can be patrons, staff, etc.) and includes them in various stages of the process. We’ll use the above-mentioned framework is a starting point for explaining design thinking because it allows for broad introductory strokes.

Empathy is an information gathering stage. You learn where the issues arise for the use, analyze what workarounds they’ve developed, and discern what the need is. Define is where you describe the question that needs to be answered. Be broad. Instead of asking, “How might we reduce the number of meetings?” Ask, “How might we improve team communication without being too disruptive to daily workflows?” This formulation still needs work, but it’s broader than the first. Ask your user if your description of the problem is on the right track. Feedback is essential to design thinking.

With a broad enough question, you can get wild crazy ideas that you would likely never have thought of otherwise. As you Ideate, be open to every idea; filter them down later. After you have a sea of ideas, try to prioritize them so you can tell which are feasible and which are ideal. You might bring your user in at this point to confirm that they are open to the ideas or that you have not veered off the rails.

Once you’ve got a good idea what ideas you want to move forward with, prototyping is where you make ROUGH versions of your ideas. This can be drawings, cardboard examples, or any low-cost way to help visualize what the idea looks like or how it would function. Then bring your user in to test. Expect to come across glitches and unforeseen complications. That is why you prototype. What we have not highlighted is that at any of these ‘stages’ you can loopback. Failure and learning are key parts of design thinking.

It should be noted that design thinking is not without its issues. There are arguments that design thinking supports the status quo and excludes groups. As such, there have been offshoots to address these problems, like the development of social design methodology. This quick overview will not make you a design thinking master but hopefully will spark some curiosity to explore the concept more.

Copyright 2018 by Casandra Laskowski.

About the author: Casandra Laskowski is a Reference Librarian and Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law. She received her J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, and her M.L.I.S. from the University of Arizona. Prior to pursuing her career as a law librarian, she worked as a geospatial analyst in the United States Army and served a fifteen-month tour of duty in Iraq. Her areas of interest include privacy, censorship, and the intersection of national security and individual liberty.