Got a “Wicked Problem”? Design Your Way Out of It

By Jason Dirkx posted 07-27-2017 11:50


Coming to ILTACON and interested in design thinking? Then get your hands dirty at the two-part workshop solving a real world problem and learn some skills to serve you the rest of your career!

Update: Check out the agenda for the workshopDesign Thinking Workshop Agenda

If you’re a professional problem solver and you’re not familiar with a management technique called Design Thinking, it’s a must-add for your professional toolbox. Many companies have already utilized design thinking to create products that resonate deeply with their customers. For example Capital One created Capital One Labs in 2011, utilizing design thinking to create an experimental product and technology incubator. Oral-B took advantage of design thinking techniques to better understand their customers and build a better toothbrush. Even in law, Davis Wright Tremaine created DWT DeNovo, King & Wood Mallesons annually designs an innovative week long people experience and Stanford Law has created the Legal Design Lab, all founded on Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is Messy

The name itself is a bit of a misnomer as the philosophy is more of an approach to problem solving, and is particularly well suited for so-called “wicked problems.” In fact, when arming folks with the tools of design thinking, Matt Homann of The Filament doesn’t like to call it design thinking at all. He says "we've jettisoned the "design-thinking" label all-together because all of these methods are -- when combined in the right way -- a better and faster way to solve problems." 

The philosophy around design thinking (which shares a lot of community with agile development principles) is intended to put humans at the center of the problem-solving endeavor by rooting solutions in addressing core human needs of constituents. In practice, design thinking brings together broadly diverse teams in exercises that are highly collaborative, messy and iterative (throw out those process maps bring in those empathy maps). But these exercises are founded in core principles and modes of operating that underpin and guide the exercises.

Design Thinking Process
Source: Paris-Est

Just as with Agile software development, there are many flavors of design thinking that spring out of the same well. Michelle Mahoney, Executive Director of Innovation at King & Wood Mallesons and graduate of the Stanford, largely follows the Stanford model, whereas Matt Homann has adapted his own spin on the philosophy: EIEIO - Explore, Ideate, Experiment, Iterate, Optimize. Interview
Source: Stanford

Both methods begin with opening your mind to understand the problem space (particularly your audience) by seeking to empathize with your constituents’ lives, emotions, motives and behaviors, drawing observations and insights from those activities and ultimately trying to formulate points of view (for your constituents).

Then you broaden your view once again to brainstorm or ideate possible solutions (first without evaluating their practicality), clustering those ideas together to draw similarities and ultimately distilling out the key ideas to pursue. Once you have selected your ideas, you rapidly prototype and test those ideas to gain further insights; starting with low-fidelity models (think pen and paper, cardboard, whatever works) and working your way up to more sophisticated prototypes as you refine your idea. post-its
Source: Stanford

When you’ve iterated to the validation of your customer or client, implantation in design thinking again puts humans at the center by employing storytelling, piloting and business modeling techniques to demonstrate what you’ve learned and what you’ve founded your solution on.

Throughout the journey, design thinkers are encouraged to jump between these phases or modes as needed. For example, if you’re testing a prototype and you realize you’ve made a flawed assumption about one of your constituents, go back and conduct some more (possibly different) activities to gain further understanding and refine the constituent’s point of view.

Legal Design Lab
Source: Stanford Legal Design Lab
While Design Thinking has been employed by the corporate sector for decades, it has been largely ignored by legal. However, the philosophy is starting to gain traction as the players in legal adapt with the changing industry.   Moreover, there are great opportunities for utilizing design thinking to solve some of legal’s persistent (wicked) issues, such as bridging the access to justice gap or addressing the call of clients for firms to better understand their needs or simply the need for support professionals and lawyers within legal organizations to better understand each other.  

Michelle Mahoney uses Design Thinking as a core part of the King & Wood Mallesons’ innovation methodology, as she sees innovation not as an event rather a design process. She says “innovation can be uncertain; design thinking allows you to validate your prototype (or minimal viable product) with minimal expense and far greater certainty.”

Join Michelle Mahoney and Matt Homann at ILTACON for a two-part, hands-on workshop (from 11:00am to 12:30pm on Tuesday, August 15 and Wednesday, August 16) where together we will all tackle a problem each of you have faced in a fun, engaging and intriguing way. With any luck, you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of your own professional world, a solution you can take back to your own organization and new tools to serve you going forward. We can’t wait!

For more on design thinking prior to conference check out: