08 Apr 2020

What is Design Thinking and how is it taught at GSOM SPbU

Large companies around the world use Design Thinking as a methodology for solving business, engineering, product and other tasks. This methodology is based on a creative rather than an analytical approach to thinking. We talked with Tatyana Bobrus, GSOM SPbU alumni, CEO of SAMSONOWA & Partners in Russia, author and lecturer of the GSOM Design Thinking course, and asked her how the course works, why it is important to learn to come up with new product ideas, and what helps to achieve success in this process.


Where is Design Thinking used?

My Design Thinking course focuses on design techniques for creating new products and services. As a business consultant in the field of innovation management, I often see that developers of new products create them for themselves rather than for real users. They are so involve in their ideas are too immersed in the process, that they do not notice anyone and nothing around. And when their solutions appear on the market and they are often not in demand. That's because the developers made it for themselves, based on their needs and pains, and not on the needs of other people. As part of my course, I tell students how to create a product that people will choose from the many others.

We are studying design approaches to creation of products. Many students registering for a course expect to learn how to create a good looking product. However, at the beginning of the course we analyze that design is not how the product looks. Design is how a product works. It was this understanding of design that was brought into our lives by Steve Jobs, who, with his team, created products that were loved by people all over the world.

I held trainings and workshops on this methodology with a different audience: students and top managers of companies. My first wish to all participants of the course, is to leave all their seriousness behind the doors of the audience. I ask everyone to mentally take off their jackets and ties, relax as much as possible, not be afraid to show their creativity, look funny or offer absurd ideas. Everyone’s voice is crucial and must be heard. Of course, it is difficult for us, as very serious and business people, to go beyond the usual framework. But if this succeeds, we can all together create a friendly and supportive atmosphere for innovation. When I work with any audience, I wait for this moment of revelation. And then we all can see miracles.

How is the course arranged

My course is interactive and includes a large share of practical work. Design thinking cannot be learned from books, it can only be learned through working. As part of the course, students work on group projects in various industries that they choose on their own. At the beginning of the course, I tell students about how they can make a foresight for the industry using Design Thinking method . We draw inspiration from films and books, analyze what products came to us from the world of science fiction. For example, prototypes of products and services such as iPad, Skype, augmented and virtual reality glasses, and others, were shown in films of the 60-80s, such as Star Trek, "Back to the Future", "2001: Space Odyssey", etc. Through films and books of the science fiction genre, we also analyze the ethical aspects of introducing technology into our lives (for example, when discussing some episodes of the Black Mirror series).

Students choose the industry, make its historical analysis and make a scenario of its development in the future. Then we prototype products for a specific niche in this industry.

To create prototypes of new products, we go through five stages of design thinking —  empathy, point of view, generation of ideas, prototyping and testing.

Five stages of design thinking

At the stage of empathy, we study the context of users and develop a sense of empathy for their "pains" or needs. We analyze how to conduct user research through observation, in-depth interviews and ethnography. We create empathy maps, personas, and a template language that describes typical processes and artifacts of a user's context.

After we have studied the needs of the user, we learn to focus on the most important problem for user and formulate his or her point of view. Since we cannot solve all the user's problems at once, at this stage it is important to focus on one thing.

When we focus on the most important issue, we generate many ideas for new solutions. At this stage, I ask students to go beyond their thinking as much as possible, remove all the frames, send their imagination into flight and generate as many ideas as possible. We are happy for any ideas — even if they are funny, absurd and crazy. You can kill an idea with one word. And we come to the process of generating ideas with the understanding that any idea can be finalized. There we learn to conduct brainstorming sessions. We generate ideas silently, in groups, in the process of discussion, and even imagining ourselves as good or bad heroes of films, fairy tales or cartoons. This helps us to go beyond our thinking and look at the problem with different points of view. I am very happy if during a brainstorm I hear the students' laughter. Because if you do not laugh while creating new ideas, then you are doing something wrong.

When we finish generating ideas, our audience looks very bright, hundreds of color stickers are pasted on the boards everywhere. Now our task is to choose the best from hundreds of ideas. We create clusters of ideas and choose the most breakthrough ones in each cluster.

Then we proceed to the equally creative stage of design thinking — prototyping. Our task at this stage is to create quick prototypes for visualizing ideas in order to visually show the future user how the new product will work. Students create paper prototypes, draw storyboards, sketches, build systems from Lego, and play custom scripts. All this is further tested with future users to collect feedback and improve product ideas.

At the end of our course, we learn how to make pitches for investors. We organize a game investment round, and each student invests game money in a project of their choice. So we determine the winner. It is worth saying that at the end of the course we have a lot of creative, innovative business ideas. I hope that someday I will see a real startup with an idea developed during the course.

Methodology Benefits

Design thinking is a unique methodology. It helps in a short time and with the least resources to create a prototype of the product and test it with users. When you use design thinking to create new products, you involve the future user in the design process, thereby you create a product with a great focus on the needs of your consumer and increase your chances for success.

I want to wish my students more faith in their uniqueness, not to be afraid to be themselves and always be open to new and unknown things.