Design Thinking Cards

Defining how we work and our approach to solving complex business problems is a challenge in itself. As a designer in an innovation consulting firm (in a much bigger management consulting service line within an ever larger firm), I find it difficult to communicate what I do to my friends and family—and to even some of my work colleagues. We find ourselves correcting people that we don’t only work on branding, illustrations, visual layouts or web design—and we certainly didn’t go to design school to make decks look pretty. Designers at Doblin are synthesizers of information and storytellers—we design for the human experience, which takes many forms. In multi-disciplinary teams, we all do a mix of everything to serve our clients and get the job done. This way of working can sometimes be ambiguous and frustrating as our roles as designers, researchers and business strategists often blur and overlap—but that’s the beauty of it. I appreciate that sort of flexibility and adaptability as we’re constantly learning from each other and experimenting with various working models and methods.

Working with Ruth Schmidt, Aashika Jain and Katie Joyce, I designed a set of cards as a step towards solving for this problem. We used the cards as a tool in a Design Thinking workshop to help attendees keep these principles top of mind during concept ideation. These cards aim to break down the design principles that we use in our everyday work, to help others who may be newer to human-centered design and the concept development process understand what’s behind creating a meaningful experience or offering. Our ultimate goal is for users to explore these principles in achievable steps and apply them in their work regardless of profession or industry. While these design thinking cards are a seemingly quick and simple solution for a big task, they take something complicated and make it a little more approachable—this itself being a core design principle in our work.

  1. Be curious—listen to your users and try to uncover their unmet needs
  2. Look beyond stuff—focus on designing experiences, not merely objects or technologies
  3. Continuously challenge orthodoxies within the company or the industry to reframe opportunities
  4. Collaborate with like-minded people who complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses
  5. Externalize your ideas—make your ideas visual and capture them with images as well as words
  6. Be open to critique—make “is this solving the problem well?” your mantra
  7. Don’t be precious with ideas—learn from iterating quickly and revise ideas early and often
  8. Look outside—go beyond your company for insights, ideas and opportunities
  9. Reverse it—instead of trying to project how much revenue the business will generate, ask how much it has to generate
  10. Focus on the basics—ditch the standard financial models
  11. Consider multiple value levers—look into each and every way the offering or business can add value
  12. Size the opportunity and market to frame where to play or what a business could become

Using simple shapes to represent the different design principles, I built them into a broader visual system. When aligned in a 6x2 matrix, the cards create a diverging and converging shape that reflects the emotional journey and widening and narrowing of our scope during parts of our concept development process.

Flip the cards over, and you’ll learn about a tool or framework to help you practice the principle.

We’ve successfully used these cards in concept development workshops to help our clients get in the right mindset before brainstorming ideas as well as recruiting events to help students understand what we do at Doblin.

How can you see yourself applying these principles?