Design thinking was revolutionary—but it's not perfect. Pattern-based thinking is the solution.
The methodology, popularized by the design consulting firm IDEO, sets out to solve problems—all problems, not just design-related—with user-focused solutions, just like UX designers do.
This design-centric way of thinking has gone mainstream in the last 10-12 years, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Design thinking has its flaws: it takes time and commitment, it’s not an intuitive process, and some non-designers are turned off by its name alone. It’s not an easy sell.
Design thinking has its flaws: it takes time and commitment, it’s not an intuitive process, and some non-designers are turned off by its name alone.
Good thing it’s not the only user-centered solution for business problems. Meet pattern-based thinking. In this post, we’ll compare design thinking and pattern-based thinking and explore some of the key differences separating the two methodologies.
Design thinking is a problem-solving process based on interaction with real users—as opposed to research or personas. When implemented correctly, it takes you on a live journey through how users or consumers actually engage with a product—not how you think they should.
Design thinking differs from traditional UX research because, while UX research focuses on, you know, researching a problem, design thinking emphasizes prototyping and iteration. The design thinking process includes a five day, five-step framework (known as a design sprint):
It’s important to note that testing is rarely the end of the design thinking process. Design thinking is an iterative process, not a linear one, and you’re meant to go back and forth between steps and repeat as necessary.
You might find out through testing that you need a new prototype, or that you’ve been examining the wrong problem altogether. While these five steps are supposed to go in order, design thinkers also have to be flexible. Trust the process.
There’s no doubt that design thinking has left a positive impact on the worlds of design and business, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The five-day design sprint process leaves much to be desired. Some of its shortcomings include:
If design thinking is all about breaking down preconceptions to start from scratch and build a uniquely new solution, pattern-based thinking is about seeing a problem and recognizing commonalities that it has with similar problems you’ve already faced. This allows you to draw upon and iterate on existing solutions, rather than starting from scratch, accelerating the problem-solving process while still leaving room for innovation and custom solutions.
Since pattern-based thinking is focused on improving your culture and problem-solving processes on a macro, long-term scale, it succeeds where design thinking falls short. It’s a paradigm shift, not a defined process, so it offers a long-term solution for a broad spectrum of problems.
Short answer: no.
Long answer: no, because it doesn’t have to. Both methodologies have their place and both offer value to the companies that are able to implement them. Pattern-based thinking helps teams see problems quicker and get to solutions faster by operating with solutions they already know work—leaping steps in the design thinking process.
Design thinking is an empathetic, collaborative solution for solving one-off problems, but it demands access to resources (read: time) that many organizations don’t have. By rooting itself in an organization’s culture, pattern-based thinking will become an organizational norm—empowering us to design more successful solutions without adding steps to our processes.
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