As outlined by the Interaction Design Foundation, “design thinking” is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that we might not realize initially. This is a solution-based and human-centered approach to solving a wide range of problems and is not limited to just designers!
There are many variants of the design thinking process in use today. However, all variants embody the same principles, which were first described by Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon in The Sciences of the Artificial in 1969. WELCOA suggests using this six-step process:
- Empathize with and understand those involved.
- Define your problem and “framestorm” challenges and opportunities.
- Generate numerous ideas and possible solutions.
- Conceive and experiment with prototypes.
- Implement and field test the prototypes.
- Evaluate the results, learn from them and make improvements.
Improving Wellness Programs
Using design thinking to create or improve wellness programs is not a new idea. In fact, in 2016, Employee Benefit News published an article discussing how this method could enhance well-being efforts. Founder and CEO of CoreHealth Technologies, Anne Marie Kirby wrote, “health and well-being are influenced by many uncontrollable factors both at and away from work, including social, emotional, environmental and cultural influences. To effectively change employee wellness, program providers need to better understand the influences of the complex systems in which people work and live.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was a traumatic event that has changed the way we all work and live. The physical and mental effects of the pandemic will be felt for years to come, which is why design thinking is once again in the spotlight. Wellness programs need to evolve and adapt to the challenges employees are currently facing, and design thinking is the way to do that.
Using this method in regards to wellness helps us observe and develop empathy with the wellness program participants. It improves our ability to understand the problem, challenge the assumptions, and question the implications. Most importantly, the six step process mentioned above is extremely useful when it comes to tackling problems that are not well known (such as recovering from a global pandemic) by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and adopting a hands-on approach.