Eureka! Principles of Design Thinking

by Luis Miguel Echegaray @lmechegaray

Question:  When was the last time you came up with a great idea?  Before you answer, let me propose another: When was the last time you came up with a great idea that was not only unique but also necessary AND appealing to your audience?  Did you help them?  Did you meet their needs?

For the majority of us, innovation can often seem like a difficult challenge, and we wrestle with a lack of motivation or writer’s block.  Our efforts are frequently interrupted by doubt and insecurity because we think that our ideas are not good enough. Or perhaps, our idea gets chosen, gets finished, but in the end, when we look at the final product, it doesn’t cause the desired effect we thought it would.

Here are some more questions: What if we were to completely reinvent the philosophy of innovation?  What if we could believe, at least temporarily, that NOTHING IS A MISTAKE, THERE IS NO WIN AND THERE IS NO FAIL?


Design thinking, developed by Stanford d school, is a concept which helps us understand that “innovation is not an event, it is a process” and that this process is a series of steps we can  follow in order for us to help us solve problems, help our communities and match what people NEED with what they could also enjoy. Our class, led by Dr. Brown, did a one-hour exercise learning these steps.  In small groups, our task was to redesign the concept of gift-giving.

Design thinking involves empathy, defining a problem, ideating solutions, prototyping, and testing the prototype with users. These stages form a ladder of development, where first and foremost we think about the customer and LEARN TO UNDERSTAND HIM OR HER.  Once we understand the customer, we allow ourselves to really break down the ideas that we can use in order to create a product or service that meets their needs.  We keep digging, we keep redefining and in the end WE SHOW, WE DON’T TELL.  We demonstrate through visuals and communication.

To me, the most important stage in all of this was EMPATHY.  If we are to engage with our communities, then surely our most important tool is to understand them, to listen and therefore dig deeper in order to comprehend what their needs are and how we can build a network of social collaboration.  Aristotle once said, “To perceive is to suffer.”  How much does that resonate with today’s world and the need to better ourselves?

The deep trust and understanding that we can obtain from our customers (audience) is our biggest asset.

Prototypes from our design thinking exercise
Prototypes from our design thinking exercise


As we begin thinking about our next challenge (making the commute better for people who live in New Jersey but work in New York,) we can formulate ideas using this process.  The steps require for us to dig deeper, to empathize, to immerse ourselves, to observe and finally to engage.  The possibilities of what we can do with this project are endless.  The outcome?  Well, that could all depend on how well we know our audience.

Questions:   What do you think is the most important part of this process?  Does it make you think about your own needs and vision?

If understanding is really the key to helping our communities, what are the obstacles that get in our way?

ALSO: Here is a great article about some of the projects Stanford’s “” came up with.