Importance of communication in Design Thinking
One of the key aspects in any Design Thinking project is the ability to communicate – both internally and externally. But this is a topic which is ignored or given the least preference in some Design Thinking trainings. Even though “communication skills” is not a core topic for Design Thinking, it’s importance during the execution of the process is significant and I feel it should be one of the follow-up trainings which need to be attended by anyone interested in Design Thinking.
Where do communication skills play a role and how important is it for Design Thinking? To answer this question, we need to look at the various phases in a typical process and understand the role of communication in that phase.
1. Define Phase
Accepting the existence of a problem which needs to be resolved is the core of Design Thinking and this happens only through open communication. Getting the feedback from the market or the field and being open to such feedback is very important. The challenge in this phase lies not only in identifying the problem and defining the scope, but also convincing the members of the Design Thinking team that this is the topic which needs to be focus on. The team needs to be motivated and driven to address the issue which has been defined as the scope.
2. Observe Phase
External communication or communicating with stakeholders who are not part of your organization is a tricky skill. If you are talking to existing customer who are using your product, it is important to have an open mind and not a defensive one (especially if the customers are critical about the product). Easier said than done.
Also, the questions which are asked during the direct interactions with end users defines the information you can get out of them. And when I refer to questions, I not only refer to the words which form the question but the tone in which it is asked and the body language which goes with it. Obviously, communication is a key ingredient in this phase.
3. Define point-of-view
People who interact with kids know that it is an art to tell a story and keep the audience captivated without losing the message which you want to convey. My experience with story telling in Design Thinking has been the same. The art of story telling has to be incorporated in such a way that the story does not take the listener too far away from the topic but at the same time all the relevant information is part of the story. Of course, you have to keep the audience captivated as well.
I remember the first time we formulated the problem statement during our training and we joked that it looks more like a English class rather than a Design Thinking training. The clarity and depth required in a “How might we..” statement can only be achieved if you have a good grasp of the language combined with the deep knowledge gathered from the observe phase.
4. Ideate Phase
Selling ideas is an interesting topic. The clarity with which the idea is expressed brings out the clarity of thought of the ideator. Ideas can be appreciated and build upon by others only if they are understood the way it was intended to be. Even though it is not good to be possessive about your own ideas, the ability to force others to think in the same or similar way in which your mind thought about it in the first place is an achievement which requires extremely good communication skills.
5. Prototype Phase
Converting idea(s) into something which is feasible and which can be demonstrated to an end user sounds easy to do. It is easy if you have mastered the art of working with a team. Note that the team members had their own ideas during the previous phase and the elements of their ideas may or may not be part of the prototype. It will be tough for a team member to work on an idea which has no element of his/her original idea (we are humans after all and not machines). The ability to make the team work together on a prototype without being biased and judgemental requires excellent coordination skills.
6. Test Phase
The ability to convince the end user that this is an unbiased validation of an idea in the form of a prototype so that the end user does not think about the future implications of the feedback given (any user will be reluctant to change) is very important. The ability to get the right feedback from a user without a push or pull from both sides leverages heavily on good communication skills.
Communication skills is not a topic which can be taught in isolation but is always in the context of a particular situation. The different phases of Design Thinking involve utilizing a different communication skill. So the team members of a Design Thinking project should keep this in mind when honing their communication skills for a future project.