The Design Thinking Process: Stop, In the Name of Space

Posted by Leon Segal on 4/29/14 8:00 AM

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Reflection is a key step in our work, as well as in our workshops. Stopping at various points in the process to evaluate where we've been, where we are, and where we would like to be heading, is an essential activity that keeps our work efficient.




Tim Brown describes the design process metaphorically as a "system of spaces". The metaphor is apt. I'd extend it by saying reflection, specifically, is an activity that needs room in design processes and our lives. 

Without exception, as we go around the room at the end of a workshop to hear those things that were most meaningful to participants, reflection is something that people most appreciate -- and most long for -- in their daily routine.

Reflection is essential for learning

We are all over-worked, over-committed, and over-engaged in doing something. We are so busy trying to complete items from a never-ending list of things that need to be done, we never actually have time to stop to look at what we are doing. If we are to learn from what we do, if we are to improve and enhance our capabilities, we must insist on taking the time to stop and reflect.

Spaces, not steps

Check out how IDEO's Tim Brown has described the design thinking process as "a series of spaces":

"The design process is best described metaphorically as a system of spaces rather than a pre-defined series of orderly steps. The spaces demarcate different sorts of related activities that together form the contrinuum of innovation.... Design projects must ultimately pass through three spaces.... We label these "inspiration," for the circumstances (be they a problem, an opportunity, or both) that motivate the search for solutions; "ideation," for the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas that may lead to solutions; and "implementation," for the charting of a path to market. Projects will loop back through these spaces - particularly the first two - more than once as ideas are refined..."
- Tim Brown, Design Thinking, Harvard Business Review, June 2008


We believe that to develop innovation capacities, each space must include reflection. In fact, when Tim mentions that "Projects loop back through these spaces", the decision whether to loop back or not is a result of reflection. 

Ideation in the design thinking process

Reflection, during, say, the "space" that Tim labels "ideation", is essential to the design thinking process. Beyond that, it is essential for lifelong learning... for growth on both personal and organizational levels. As we rush from one task to the other, if we don't find the time to stop and reflect, we lose precious opportunities to make changes that can improve our performance.

"We never have time to reflect" is the most common complaint we hear in our workshops. If you took the time to sit and talk about process -- how you create, how you collaborate -- imagine how much time you could save?

Resist immunity to change

What is the business case for making time for reflection?  On the corporate level, there's the obvious connection to Peter Senge's concept of Learning Organization. When we talk about "innovation made personal, I think Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey said it best when in their book Immunity to Change they wrote:

There is no more perfect marriage of interests – between the needs of an organization and the needs of its individual members – than the ongoing growth of people at work. 


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Topics: Reflection & Integration