Design thinking is becoming more and more prevalent in training design. Consisting of five stages, it is a human-centered design approach that helps designers create outstanding learning experiences. Through interviews, observations, and the creation of empathy maps and learner personas, designers connect with the learner and gain valuable insights in the first two stages: empathize and define. In the ideation stage, designers interpret data collected in the first two stages and define a problem statement before brainstorming concepts. Equipped with a variety of ideas collected through brainstorming, mind maps or analogies, designers move on to the prototype stage, in which they produce a number of inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the solution. In this stage, designers move from an abstract idea to a more tangible product. Once a prototype is in place, the designers can move on to testing the solution.

It’s important to remember that, despite the fact that testing is the last step in the design thinking process, it is an iterative process. Results from the test phase are used to redefine problems and inform the understanding of users and how people think, behave and feel. Rigorous testing should be done not just by the designer but by other evaluators to ensure the solution meets the learners’ needs. As a result, designers may have to return to the drawing board and come up with a different solution.

User Testing

It is best to use a natural setting to test the prototype, meaning the environment the learner is used to. The goal should be to have learners use the prototype like they would in real life as much as possible. Follow these guidelines for the best outcomes:

  • Tell the users that you are testing the prototype, not them.
  • If possible, have alternatives for the prototype so you can test which version works best.
  • Do not over-explain the prototype, but watch the learner use it, and write down your observations.
  • Ask users to talk through their experience using the prototype.
  • If you only want to test certain portions of the prototype, have specific tasks ready that the learner should perform.
  • When you observe the learner, make sure you don’t disrupt his or her interaction with the prototype.
  • Ask follow-up questions to clarify what the user is describing.
  • Think about having an additional person there to take notes and write down observations so you can focus on the learner.

Negative and Positive Feedback

Don’t be discouraged by negative feedback. On the contrary, negative feedback can provide lots of insights into your solution. It can help designers find new ways to solve the same problems or help discover previously unconsidered problems. Designers have to seek feedback wherever possible, conduct test using real end users, and analyze the results to determine what’s working and what isn’t. The end goal is a desirable, feasible and viable solution.

Desirable and Feasible Solutions

Desirability relates to the focus on people. Design thinking is human-centered design. A solution always needs to be appeal to the needs, emotions and behaviors of our learners. Feasibility refers to the technology in place and answers the question of whether your design solution is technically possible. Technology shouldn’t hold you back, but sometimes, you can’t implement a solution without incurring huge costs.

To summarize, despite having five seemingly linear stages, the design thinking process is fluid, iterative and flexible. Stages feed into one another and form iterative loops; they don’t follow necessarily any sequence in a project. The best gauge of success happens when your training solution satisfies the desirability and feasibility tests.