Design thinking and mastering the art of not getting stuck

Kateřina Pařízková
Kateřina Pařízková

What’s this all about?

At LEVERIS, we use design thinking to tackle complex problems. We pay special attention to creating workflows that consist of meaningfully intertwined steps. Our design thinking methodology helps us to support our clients so they don’t burn time on unnecessary clicks and can easily focus on their tasks at hand. In this article, Katerina Parizkova, UX Designer at LEVERIS, explains the concept of design thinking and shares insights on the core stages of the process and tools used by the LEVERIS UXD team when developing new functionalities and redesigning existing complex ones.

Read on if you:

  • Want to learn what design thinking is and its role in building products
  • Want to find out how the LEVERIS UXD team applies design thinking to its core banking platform.
  • Are keen to understand what it takes to not get stuck

In the world of design, there is a well-known story about a truck getting stuck under a bridge. As the story goes, the police and rescue workers on the scene were arguing about how to get it out and relieve a major traffic jam that had developed behind. They were coming up with possible solutions based on their own areas of expertise, for example, chipping away at the bridge or dismantling the truck. However, in a stroke of luck, a passerby approached and said, “Just let the air out of the tyres” – and, low and behold, that’s what they did and it worked!

Source: Wystan, Flickr

What this story manages to highlight is how human thinking patterns can constrain us from coming up with a simple and sometimes obvious solution to a complex problem. This same hypothesis applies to technologies and applications.

What is design thinking?​

First things first, design thinking is by no means a new concept and was widely used by innovators throughout the ages in different areas, like art and even science. The analysis and understanding of how the practice helped bring about those innovations led to the forming of a practice that can be applied in many different processes and areas. Perhaps surprisingly, it originally came about as a way of teaching engineers how to approach problems creatively, as designers do. Since then, it has become widely used by many of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple and Google.

Here we have creative, solution-based thinking that focuses on finding solutions instead of problem-based thinking, which tends to create limitations and obstacles.

Design thinking is an innovative non-linear process consisting of specific stages, leading us towards a deep understanding of the user and their requirements; sharpening our observation skills; arming us with the ability to ask important questions and reframe problems when needed. Through guided experimentation with concepts and ideas, in the form of sketching, prototyping and testing, design thinking helps us to turn our ideas into tangible, testable products in the most cost- and time-effective manner.

Implementing a mostly problem-solving strategy is risky. Because, in the end, more time and money is wasted than if there was a window for design thinking at the beginning of the process.”​

Kateřina Pařízková, UX Designer, LEVERIS Tweet

Don't burn time chipping the bridge – or with unnecessary clicks​

In a real-life scenario, we can apply the story of the truck to the day-to-day work of bank operators. Just like anticipating the possibility of a truck becoming stuck under a bridge would have saved wasted time and money, applying effective design thinking brings about intuitive UI design, thus freeing up users to work as productively and efficiently as possible.

Implementing a mostly problem-solving strategy is risky. Because, in the end, more time and money is wasted than if there was a window for design thinking at the beginning of the process.

It is clear from the above that potentially problematic situations can be anticipated and avoided. And so, this brings us to the methodology of design thinking.

Design thinking methodology – non-linear and iterative

A large percentage of current methodologies of design thinking stems from the 7-Stage Model by Herbert A. Simon and his groundbreaking book The Sciences of the Artificial, published in 1969.

However, today, the most commonly used methodology in design thinking consists of five stages derived from the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, the leading institution on design thinking. But my opinion is this – both models make some sense and, at the beginning of design thinking application, it is always good to adopt a framework you can follow. Most importantly, you should develop the best methodology that fits your project, experience and team.

What is absolutely crucial though is that the steps are not always sequential. Since it is really a creative process, going through it in a non-linear way is the key approach to take. It’s not the easiest one to implement, to be honest, but a really important one nonetheless.

Deciding which phase to move into from a certain point depends on each project, company, team, moment or practice. Of course, with more practice, more skills and refinement emerge. And, believe me, there is never just one universal way.

Design thinking at LEVERIS – the initial stages and three crucial tools we use

At LEVERIS, the UXD team has adopted a methodology that we gave you a glimpse of in an earlier blog post about redesigning navigation for the back-office.

LEVERIS design process

The first two stages – define and research in the seven-stage model or empathise and define in the five-stage model – are always crucial and can have a really positive impact on the final products, be it a small feature or a big initiative like, for example, loans or securitisation.

Ideally, when the UXD team enters the process at the beginning of building a product, there are three crucial tools we use to go through those first two stages – user stories, mind maps and flowcharts. Each of them can be pretty powerful when used correctly and in combination with cross-team collaboration. Here’s a breakdown of what they are:

User stories

User stories describe each action we want to enable the user to perform. And there can be many of those actions, trust me. Writing user stories is the first important stage in translating business needs and other requirements. It is a powerful tool that helps us to understand the overall scope, key points and features. It helps us to find out what needs to be specified and what the priorities are. Building user stories is iterative and usually, a few rounds of specification between teams is required. For this, a simple Excel table is more than sufficient.

Mind maps

The second stage is mind map creation, where all the important data from user stories are put into meaningful relations. It is important to note that the mind map creation must incorporate all user stories. We use a convenient tool for it called Whimsical. This helps a great deal in discovering any crucial gaps that exist. It is also the first important pre-stage leading to a good user interaction flow as sometimes, our mind maps can have a really complex structure. The example below is a case in point.

Part of a LEVERIS UX project mind map

Flow charts

In the third stage, we get into the creation of so-called flow charts, which provide a visual representation of a workflow or process. Again, these are developed with the help of Whimsical. We can only build the flows well when we go through the mind map – this helps us to make sure the future designs are actually built on all the logic of the product and contain all the features in the best possible order and relations.

The flow chart is the pre-stage to sketching and designing in the ideation and prototyping phases.

We carry out research throughout all three stages based on our needs.

Part of a LEVERIS UX project flow chart

Time to focus on the right tasks​

Wit the above process in mind, now we have the answer to the question of whether there would have been a way to anticipate the truck becoming stuck under the bridge. If design thinking had been applied in the phase of planning the bridge and the road, many problems would have been avoided.

The same applies to products at LEVERIS. Applying design thinking from the start of any process helps us make sure our clients spend their time focusing on their tasks and don’t become hindered by trying to understand the functionalities or, worse still, trying to get unstuck from a certain stage in a process.

In essence, we can keep the air in the tyres and focus on getting to our destination.

In this blog post, you gained an insight into how we tackle projects in the first phase. In upcoming blog posts, you will have the chance to find out about the tools we use for other phases and how they enable us to build our design system, which groups all the elements that allow us to most effectively design and develop our core banking platform.

Stay tuned!

Kateřina Pařízková
Kateřina Pařízková
Katerina is a UX designer at LEVERIS. With her team, she works on enhancing the usability of the banking platform and providing users with the best possible experience.

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Kateřina Pařízková, UX Designer at LEVERIS, explains the concept of design thinking and shares insights on the core stages of the process and tools used by the LEVERIS UXD team when developing new functionalities and redesigning existing complex ones.