Critical thinking as a design tool

Photo by Milad B. Fakurian on Unsplash

Inspired by the book “How to Think more Effectively — A guide to greater productivity, insight, and creativity”, I started to think about my own way of processing and analyzing information in life as well as in my design process.

In fact, I’ve never stopped before to think about my own thinking process before I came across this book (weird isn’t it?). I didn’t believe that ideas came to me by luck but what I didn’t think about before is that I could still optimise my thinking process, reframing it as I needed to.

One of the chapters that particularly caught my attention talked about Sceptical thinking, where I found this interesting piece:

Part of thinking effectively is knowing, at one level, the likelihood that we might not be thinking well and so proceeding with humility and an appreciation of our mind’s characteristic tricks’. — “How to Think more Effectively (p. 133)”

This made me read more about different types of thinking and how that could help me find a way to improve my design thinking process. By improving our thinking skills we can work on having better ideas, solve problems more effectively, make better decisions, structure information better, and ultimately, build our own system values and beliefs. In short, that means adapting our mental models.

? Read more about mental models applied to user experience design. —

Everything we design, every decision we make is impacted by our experiences that, over time, have shaped the way we look at the world.

When diving into the types of thinking I immediately linked my need for improvement with critical thinking.

Critical Thinking consists of mental processes of discernment, analysis and evaluation. It includes possible processes of reflecting upon a tangible or intangible item in order to form a solid judgment that reconciles scientific evidence with common sense. — Psychology Wiki

Critical thinking applied to design

A good start for applying critical thinking is by asking for clarification about a given subject. The goal within this process is to clarify, to gain detail of the situation. This way we are allowed to reflect and re-evaluate a scenario. Approaching a new design project making use of this will let us open our eyes to issues we are not familiar with and even be aware of decisions that were made before by understanding the context where they were made.

Another important point is also to remind ourselves to be skeptical of our own thinking. As an example, we usually tend to prioritize or to think that some solution might be the best one because we’ve heard about it frequently from users or even within our team. That’s an example of the availability bias — a mental shortcut that involves relying on information that comes to mind quickly, so when we need to make a decision this allows us to conclude faster.

At this point thinking critically will let us zoom out a certain scenario, where we should not be seeking information following our assumptions but looking for the opposite perspectives.

The Power of good questions

As we do this work of clarifying the insights we have, and before starting ‘pushing pixels’, we can create a complete board where we can come back any time and reframe the problem and the solutions. As we gather more and more insights about what the user needs to do, what is the business goal and how others handle the same problem we can make sure that we are approaching the problem in the right way.

Usually, this template is filled with answers, but for this purpose, I’ve filled it with useful questions we usually make to find the right answers.

Product Design Process at Trouva

Advantages of applying critical thinking to Design

Below you can find a few examples of how we can apply it to the design process and how crucial it is to have these skills in order to get the best out of the information we get at all stages of the design process.

1. Design Thinking

The design thinking ideology asserts that a hands-on, user-centric approach to problem solving can lead to innovation, and innovation can lead to differentiation and a competitive advantage. — NNGroup

Design Thinking considers different steps within completely undefined parameters. Those parameters can constantly change as we discover new things. It is a problem-solving way of looking at things. Design thinking is an iterative process, meaning you go back and forth to look for a solution to a problem that should be better than existing ones. Critical thinking is an important component that comes into play at every stage of the design thinking process.

2. Creative Problem Solving

As designers, we’re often solving problems Critical thinking is the key to help us think from different angles and points of view as well as a good skill to use to detect problems earlier in the process. By forcing ourselves to use different perspectives we can think of solutions for each one of them. This way we unblock our creativity before judging any of the solutions we came up with.

3. Research / Observation

When asking for users’ feedback it’s important to be aware that biases will influence the way people provide feedback to us and our own biases will influence the way we receive and interpret their feedback. At this point, Critical thinking will let us focus on the whys and hows more than our previous assumptions. This plays an important role when starting with research or when preparing an interview script.

“We will have learnt to be good sceptics, and better thinkers. when we always maintain a position of doubt”. — “How to Think more Effectively (p. 135)”

Making unbiased questions allows us to make sense of ambiguity and uncertainty, letting us understand the implicit meanings of a given scenario. For this reason, critical thinking takes us into the future experience allowing us to be closer to the intended use conditions.

4. Absence of bias

bi·as: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair; cause to feel or show inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something.

Author/Copyright holder: Unknown. Copyright terms and license: Unknown.

When tackling a design problem we need to make sure we understand our audience, or if we don’t, to make a conscious decision to learn about them. Supporting our design decision based on existing data. Qualitative and quantitative evidence gives us the empathy we need to do good work. As we seek broader perspectives we are also building a much more open mindset than we currently do. All it takes is our desire to stay open to overcome our limited and biased mindsets.

? Read more about unconscious bias in design

Critical thinking is an essential part of the design process

Critical thinking is essential to the design process. Critical thinking allows us to ask thoughtful questions so we can design later on. It provides us a more rounded perspective over the solutions we provide by letting us see them more holistically.

In doing so, we can consider more scenarios, more broadly and make more informed design decisions

As designers, using critical thinking as a tool doesn’t only make the task easier. It makes our vision clearer and less prone to biases. By examining the pros and cons of a set of solutions we can make sure we have the best solution at hand. A designer must be a critical thinker if they are to fulfill their potential, whether working alone or as part of a team.

— Remember the mantra: never fall in love with your hypothesis! ?

Dizparada is a senior product designer looking forward to better understanding humans. She loves sports and getting lost in nature.

Originally published in Medium