Vinoth Deva Kumar

@vinothdevakumar

Design Thinking and Wicked Problems

Design and thinking are two simple english words. Put them together and you will end up with a jargon. Jargons complicate simple concepts and people’s understanding.

First, let us look at design. When most people think of design, they think about arts or aesthetics. However, design is a very broad term. In the real world, designers are problem solvers. Good design addresses and solves a problem. The second word ‘thinking’ was added probably to compare design thinking with other problem solving methodologies such as systems thinking and engineering thinking. What differentiates design thinking from other problem solving methodologies is the nature of the problem that it deals with.

Design thinking is a problem solving methodology that is used to address ‘wicked problems’. What is a wicked problem? A wicked problem means that the nature of the problem is highly ambiguous. Think of it as a highly complex problem where there are many knowns and unknowns. “Playing chess is a complex problem. Having your in-laws over for dinner for the first time is a wicked problem. You are having dinner but there are lot of other issues going on.” Udaya Patnaik, Founder of Jump Associates. Wicked problems do not have clear yes or no solution. There are only better or worse solutions to wicked problems. Better solutions, usually, uncover more design challenges. A solution that works today might not work in the future. A solution that works in one market might not work in another market (now or in the future). This is one of the main reasons why design thinking has become so popular in business and strategy. Some people refer to wicked problems as design problems.

Another difference is that design thinking is divergent in nature. Most of the other problem solving process are convergent. During the initial stages of design thinking process, there is a strong emphasis on coming up with many creative ideas as possible. A good design facilitator would create an environment in which the participants come up with as many ideas as possible. One way to create such an environment is to ensure that participants do not judge the initial ideas.

Thank you if you have reached this point. I am trying to write more regularly so any suggestion or feedback are most welcome (even the negative ones).

In my next article, I will write about the different stages in design thinking process.

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