Innovation With Design Thinking Demands Critical Thinking

Innovation with design thinking demands critical thinking because we must understand our assumptions that frame our ideas and shape our design.

As our world becomes more and more digital, it’s not the first click that counts – it’s what happens after that first click. We design five steps ahead in the user experience, not one. And to deliver integrated solutions with a holistic view, we analyze five dimensions and drop none.

By blending design thinking with critical thinking, we foster innovation that delivers customer-centric solutions. This mindset is crucial to the success of design thinking because its universal applications are a key driver for creating opportunities for both new and old solutions, no matter if they are internal- or customer-facing.

Here are three reasons why innovation with design thinking demands critical thinking.

Critical thinking does not hinder–but rather augments–innovative thinking

Some people believe that critical thinking hampers innovative thinking and, therefore, consider it as incompatible with design thinking. This notion is misleading and relies on the misinterpreted assumption of what critical thinking means and how it applies to design. There is nothing in the design-thinking process that prohibits the ability to challenge consensus or pursue alternative views. Instead, it encourages us to observe a complete view of the user experience and paint an accurate picture of reality.

Critical thinking is a key ingredient in evaluating and improving our ideas, regardless of how we label them. It should not be confused with being argumentative. If used effectively, critical thinking can help us acquire vital insight about the user experience and strengthen our design assumptions.

"Innovation with design thinking demands critical thinking because we must understand our assumptions that frame our ideas and shape our design."

Let’s take this a step further. When we seek to design and deliver innovative solutions, it’s not enough to just have new or creative ideas. To drive growth and profitability, the new or creative ideas have to be useful and relevant. Critical thinking provides a vigorous and crucial perspective when evaluating these ideas and transforming them when necessary.

Design thinking is the art of mindful restraint

Exhibiting mindful restraint is at the heart of design thinking because it eliminates conscious and unconscious bias. This is especially important when it comes to empathy. The more knowledge we enjoy and the more credentials someone has, the more assumptions we may make. If these assumptions are left untested or remain unfiltered, the solutions built on them risk failure when presented or consumed by actual users.

Critical thinking gives us the tools to remove perceived success. This capability is especially important as we become more critical, not less when examining our own assumptions. When we design, our human instincts crave validation based on our prior knowledge, justification of our prior decisions, and support of earlier conclusions or beliefs. In the process, we may deny ourselves the opportunity to design inside-out—rather than outside-in.

Find invaluable insights hidden in plain sight

Invaluable insight is best discovered in areas hidden from plain sight. When critical thinking blends with design thinking, we not only design human-centered models for understanding the problem, but also present alternative ways of looking at a problem.

Similarly, to identify and understand the logical connection between each idea, we should become active design thinkers, not passive recipients of information. Through critical thinking, we are encouraged to rigorously question ideas and assumptions, rather than accepting them without deeper reflection. In turn, design thinkers apply critical thinking to determine whether their ideas and findings represent a realistic picture of the user experience.

From my experience, “asynchronous design,” as I call it, is restrictive because it is typically formed through separate steps in a “design and think” or “think and design” approach. Instead, design must be viewed as a “synchronous” process, where we observe the situation and identify needs and opportunities while applying thinking that thoroughly represents the reality of our intended target users. With synchronous design, we no longer separate design from thinking; we become a critical thinker in the design.

Bottom line

Critical thinking helps us break down assumed models taken for granted by the status quo. By eliminating artificial structures that are inherent in traditional approaches, we foster design thinkers who are encouraged to identify new opportunities for innovation in all roles and at all levels of the enterprise.

By systematically cultivating our talent, we promote, what I call, a growth philosophy in design that says: “Don’t just teach me design thinking–show me how to think in the design.” And that’s how we compete on design thinking to drive growth and profitability.

Stay tuned for my next blog in the Design Thinking series.

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