Design Thinking – Iterative Processes

Design Thinking is a philosophy and approach that puts a creator firmly into the shoes of the customer. Here two of our experts share their experiences.

Design Thinking is a philosophy and approach that puts a creator firmly into the shoes of the customer. Here two of our experts share their experiences.

Beneath every problem, there is a set of interlocking systems and multifaceted challenges that can contribute to an answer. Some businesses and public organisations have embraced Design Thinking for addressing the big questions with a human-centric approach. Here at Housing Partners we endeavour to build systems and tools for practitioners, with practitioners. To explain this iterative approach we spoke to TAIM Product Owner, Oliver Florence, while gaining insight into the mind of a designer from UX Designer, Rob Durham.

To solve a simple problem, say a latch on a cupboard, there are a multitude of practical or aesthetic solutions that could be designed. However, when we come to issues that are a sum of multiple problems, solutions will be varied and likely, multi-faceted. Design Thinking is an approach we can take when faced with these ‘wicked’ problems.

To solve the ‘wicked’ problems affecting a society, such as climate change or homelessness, there will never be a catch-all remedy, partly due to the likelihood that the issue will morph over time. If we all waited for an ultimate answer, stagnation would inevitably reign. So, what can be done? Organisations can identify smaller solutions to a niche of the problem, enhancing and updating them over time in consultation with the end user’s needs. 

The process of Design Thinking is at its core, simple:

Step One:  Understand the problem in full

Step Two:  Explore a wide breadth of possible solutions

Step Three: Undergo a cycle of prototype, test, iterate

What deploying Design Thinking should achieve are solutions that are user-centric by being:

Technologically Feasible: Wild possibilities may be floated in exploration stages, but practical solutions need to be within the capabilities of an organisation to build

Economically Viable:  The business and their customers can afford it

Desirable for the user: The solution is intuitive to use and addresses an urgent need

Finally, it is essential that the solution be implemented without ever assuming that it is then a closed book, without recourse for improvements or innovation.

“Design puts the needs of people at the centre of products, services and places. It unlocks solutions to complex problems and makes the connections between products, services and environments that affect our lives. It enables us to think about how services or developments are delivered, what impact they will have, what purpose they provide and how they may bring people together to find agreement and move forward”

A New Deal for Social Housing, Design Council

When applying design thinking to social housing and public services, The Design Council drives home that this does not apply solely to the building of homes, but should be employed in the delivery of services and processes, as well as viewing housing development and management in terms of its wider community, economic and health impacts.

In the case of Housing Partners, excepting our HomeSwapper platform, the end-users of our software are not the last stakeholders impacted by our development choices. We therefore, have to work in very close consultation with registered providers and social housing practitioners, such as NPSS to understand the customer implications of our software. And we are in good company; public organisations in the UK that have adopted design thinking in their service delivery include Network Rail, Highways England and the NHS.

Case Study 

Understanding Housing Partner’s Prototype, Test, Iterate cycle with Oliver Florence and Rob Durham:

“From what customers tell me, they appreciate the iterative process,” Oliver tells us. The software model many RPs are “used to is that they provide summarised feedback perhaps once a year – if that – to their software provider and the next thing that they hear is, ‘here’s a bunch of stuff we’re releasing that we think you want.’ This is distinctly different from our process, which aims to include a wide array of stakeholders from inception to implementation.

“Once we’ve established with our group of customers and stakeholders what their list of things is that they want us to do, we get them to do a priority order of what we should do next.” It’s then down to Oliver’s team to factor in how long it will take and how much it will cost to build these changes. “Say you have two things you want us to achieve and one of them scores 10 out of 10 for how much value it would add, and one is a 6 out of 10. But the 10 out of 10 would take six months to build and the 6 out of 10 would take far less time. You might prioritise doing the quicker one first.” Delivering solutions and improvements now helps address the problem immediately; this may not perfect the solution, but it will be making an impact in the present.

“Rather than working through the whole list and then releasing it – we will instead work for two weeks. Then we present what we have done to the customer so they can get their hands on it and start testing it. The reason we do that rather than working the whole way through the list is because customers have emerging requirements.” When presented with a prototype, some customers actually realise that they want different problems answered now than they imagined they would at the start and “because we have a really short feedback loop, we can change the priority of what we are going to build next, based on customer input and continue each time to deliver the most valuable thing for them.”

The designer’s mindset is one that also embraces uncertainty and ambiguity, while putting empathy and optimism at its core. UX designer Rob Durham thinks that “as designers both of us (me and my colleague, Jack) naturally build our work with a sense of empathy and you also should have some kind of artistry.”

There is a level of ‘feeling’ about design that is then backed up by data and facts; quantitative data cannot be the only factor in building products, if that was the case a computer could build them (and we’re not there yet, thankfully). Rob shares a social example for a design-thinking based approach: “If you walked into a party, you may notice that other people might make an entrance and want to be the centre of attention. They are not really interested in how anybody else is feeling or behaving, what the atmosphere is or the level of decorum. A good designer is a good listener. They would probably enter, be fairly quiet, gaining empathy for a while and getting the lay of the land before having a conversation.” In other words, understanding, exploring and testing; the tenets that underpin Design Thinking.

“We keep abreast of a wide array of sources. UX design and usability principles are constantly changing and we need to know how other people are working as influencers and the way people are developing design systems. We analyse the look and feel of what other organisations out there are doing. We don’t try to match or predict where they are going and instead try to forge our own path.”

Rob Durham, UX Designer at Housing Partners

Housing Partners build a number of solutions for the social housing sector including TAIM. If you would like to know more about what we do, please drop an email to info@housingpartners.co.uk