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Design thinking

How design thinking helped me carve a new career path

On a fine morning in 2016, after months of agonising and contemplating, I decided to switch careers and turn to ‘design’. This was no easy decision after working as an IT professional for a year. Not to mention four tedious years of studying engineering and planning a fancy career around the ever-booming, ever-expanding IT industry. While I did all this, my heart was somewhere else—it belonged with colours and creativity. Not just now, but even as a child. I was always skilled at painting and creating. Creating anything. It just had to be artistic.

So, the time I worked as an IT professional, I probably went through the greatest dilemma of my life. Whether to quit and do what my heart craved or stick to what the plan was all along and try to do my best. The truth was, I had the skills for design and art, but here I was writing code. Cut to that fine morning, I made up my mind.

It is easier said than done. I was a long way from answering the HOWs and WHATs of ‘design as a career’. And just like that, my luck turned. Over a cup of coffee on a cold winter evening, I came across the concept that was to change my life forever. ‘Design Thinking’—a solution-based approach to problem-solving, read the Google search result.

Just to set the context right for you, Design Thinking was first mentioned by American economist and cognitive psychologist Herbert Simon in his 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial. Simon defined it as a tool that helps you unchain yourself from problems using design strategies. He primarily discovered this iterative technique to help individuals make decisions, eliminating doubt and confusion. The first steps of the process are generating ideas, testing those ideas, and recording feedback from every problem until you have a viable solution.

And so I did exactly this—I came up with various career ideas, tested those ideas, and recorded my feedback on each idea.

Here’s a snapshot of how I used design thinking to navigate a new career path using these five key steps: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. And what did I gain in the process? Saved time and money, and bypassed the frustration of leaving my comfort zone and entering the unknown.

Empathise

In the first step of Design Thinking, you observe and engage with a problem from a user’s perspective.

In my case, the problem was a career shift, the user was me, and the required outcome was a clear roadmap for the career in design. Once these pointers were in place, I interacted with a few designers, who were either working as designers or were studying it. By doing so, I learnt about the space, and the challenges I could face while pursuing design as a career.

Define

In this stage, you process and analyse the information you gathered during phase one. With the insights you get, you begin to define your needs. To do so, I started with a question, what do I want to design? Should it be physical products? Or should it be ads for a marketing company? Or should I create animations? I made a pro-con list for every niche I was remotely interested in. Finally, I narrowed down to Communication Design and Film Design.

The next question I had to figure out was how do I start a career in design? I had two options—either get a formal education from a college or I self-teach myself. I decided to try my hands on both.

I knew what I had to do, but it wasn’t easy. It was a stressful time, to say the least. But now I have realised, all the self-doubt, fear, and anxiety were normal and necessary.

Through ideation, I learnt an important lesson. There cannot be one or two solutions to a problem, there can be many.

Ideate

Ideation helps you derive potential solutions for every need. In this step, you brainstorm to generate ideas beyond existing solutions. The aim is to obtain as many possibilities and alternatives as possible.

I used ideation to find ideas that could help me solve the problems generated in the ‘define’ stage. I had narrowed down to the two streams of design, and I had decided to go ahead with both options to make a start.

Through ideation, I learnt an important lesson. There cannot be one or two solutions to a problem, there can be many. What worked for others might not work for me, and vice versa. This perspective further gave me clarity on how to proceed further.

Prototype

Prototyping doesn’t always mean creating models or scaled-down products. It also applies to intangible solutions, for instance, creating frameworks to solve problems.

After narrowing down to the types of design I want to create, I started working on them through online courses and tutorials. In a matter of time, I had created a portfolio of various artworks and designs. At that time, I was applying for colleges too. But before I could hear from them, I got a job offer from a reputed firm, which kick-started my career in design.

Test

Once you have created the prototypes or artworks in my case, it is time to test them for feedback. This is the final phase of the entire design thinking process.

The process of ideation, prototyping, and testing is repeated until all the prototype meets the needs. Iteration is a fundamental part of design thinking, where an individual can use these steps again and again until the desired outcome is achieved.

Today, I have an experience of four years in design and counting. I have to say, there is nothing more pleasing and satisfactory than doing something you love. But it does come with a price, and I paid it with my hard work and never giving up attitude.

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