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Solving Problems With Design Thinking

March 2020 | Manpreet Dhillon, Head of Legal Transformation at ContractPodAi

Today’s world is one of intertwining systems, in which many challenges are fluid, multifaceted, and undeniably human. Organizations, inside and outside of the legal sector, must come to grips with – and even embrace – disruptive forces like technology. They must ask themselves how they will evolve in response to such rapid, technological change – and how they will support team members and transform large systems simultaneously.

For many, the problem-solving methodology – known as design thinking – is an effective way to answer these and other big questions. In fact, it is slowly becoming an important part of today’s complex, interconnected world. Design thinking is vital to the development and refinement of skills – those allowing us to better understand and respond to organizational and societal changes. It helps designers, especially, carry out research and brainstorm ideas before creating prototypes and testing out viable solutions.

Design thinking is more than just a process, though. It combines the possibilities of technology, the needs of people, and the requirements for overall business success. Thinking more like a designer can help transform organizations’ products, services, and entire business strategy. That’s because the approach brings together what is the most feasible, technologically speaking, with what is the most desirable from a human standpoint.

The Evolution of Design Thinking

Compared to the centuries-old scientific method, design thinking is relatively new as a mindset and methodology. In a way, it sprung from the industrial revolution, in which the limits of what we thought was technologically possible were pushed in dramatic fashion. Industrial designers, architects, and engineers, etc. – driven by the significant societal changes of the 20th century – later came together in a demonstration of collective problem-solving.

But it was cognitive scientist and Nobel Prize laureate Herbert A. Simon who was the first to mention design thinking as a way of conceptualizing. In his 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial, Simon offered many ideas considered to be the principles of design thinking. Then, in the 1970s, design thinking started to address the human and technological needs of the day.

Celebrated designers who have adopted this method include Naoto Fukasawa, Saul Bass, Florence Knoll, and Le Corbusier, as well as Ray and Charles Eames. They each knew that coming up with elegant answers requires paying attention to the context of the problems and the consequences of the solutions. It means taking into account human priorities along the way to innovation.

Today, design thinking is on its way to becoming one of the leading innovation methodologies. Across many industries and disciplines, hundreds of thousands of people have now been introduced to the most basic concepts of design thinking. Through it, many have even experienced those ‘a-ha’ moments, in which they suddenly view their work – and the world – from an entirely new perspective. Individuals realize their own creative capacity, while problem-solving teams make progress toward their goals in less time than it takes through traditionally entrenched methods. Design thinking has generated groundbreaking solutions in the most exciting, innovative ways. It has been promoted at every level of business, and is behind the success of a number of high-profile, global companies, particularly Google, Apple, and Airbnb.

The Five Stages of Design Thinking

Of course, there’s no one definition of design thinking. But most agree that it is a systematic yet adaptable approach to problem-solving and innovation. Think of it as a non-linear methodology that offers a means to think deeply outside the box in order to solve problems that are ill-defined – or even unknown. Design thinking, after all, is human-centered, intentional, experimental, and responsive, as well as completely tolerant of failure, itself.

More specifically, design thinking consists of five phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. The first phase allows you to better understand a problem from an empathetic standpoint. The next phase is an opportunity to analyze and synthesize all of the information gathered during the first phase, before identifying and defining the core problem. In the third phase, you can begin to think ‘outside of the box,’ looking at the problem in alternative ways and generating ideas based on the knowledge acquired during the first two phases. In the fourth phase, you can come up with possible solutions to the problem – those fully explored during the first three stages. Finally, the solutions that are identified in the previous phase are put to a rigorous test.

The Future of Design Thinking

As design thinking moves further away from being a nascent practice, more people will appreciate its value, becoming committed, leading practitioners of design thinking, themselves. Of course, design thinking takes some learning and practice. It takes time to tinker with and test, not to mention an overall willingness to fail early-on – and often – throughout the entire process.

At the end of the day, though, in-house counsels and the like should try looking at large-scale challenges in legal through the eyes of a designer. In that way, they can become dynamic and superior problem-solvers, themselves. They can help create design criteria, and brainstorm and test solutions that can eventually become real-world innovations.

Also key to problem-solving are the craft and expertise of designers across many disciplines. Design thinking calls for collaboration with a critical mass of individuals with unique mindsets and sets of skills – those who can approach the unknown with certainty and resolve, and develop new approaches and strategies. With them, legal teams can utilize design thinking to take on some of the biggest organizational challenges, such as how to drive artificial intelligence (AI) applications as part of their digital transformation. They can aspire to have CLOC’s 12 core competencies for legal operations, reaching new levels of maturity.

Learn More About Design Thinking and ContractPodAi

Want to learn to develop your own framework and best practices around the design thinking process? To find out more about ContractPodAi and contract lifecycle management (CLM), please reach out to us.

About the author

Manpreet Dhillon
Head of Legal Transformation, ContractPodAi

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