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How to Harness Divergent Points of View in the Design Process

A recurring topic that is always brought forth, in several contexts for a fact (which include Job Interviews, Design Meetups, conversations with peers), is invariably, how do Designers reconcile divergent points of view, which at times come from very different sources, including senior stakeholders/leadership, product peers, consultants, development leads, anyone really that is involved in the Design Thinking process. That topic usually segue ways into the following question “How do Designers get their point across, with all these voices present, including and chief among them, the voice of the customer”. This topic transcends projects and problem solving situations not only for startups, but for any organization that decides to embark on Design Thinking processes. This article aims to add some elements of reflection, since it illustrates a successful situation where divergence translated into fuller and far more innovative product solutions, and one where divergence undermined cohesion, and essentially sabotaged collaboration efforts which translated into subpar product offerings.

Divergence. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Divergence” as “Difference, Disagreement”, among other descriptions that it provides. Typically in Product Design, when an idea, an opportunity, a roadmap is canvassed, there’s a recognition and statement, that the market needs a particular solution, or that a product solution can be devised to tap a market that has potentially been lying dormant or even unexplored. The granularity and detail that surrounds these statements depend largely on the teams making these assumptions, but also on the research that is done on the market, and of course, users that will be purchasing the product solution at hand. Depending on Organizations, Design and their professional laborers, should be involved in this stepping stone, since in essence, defining a problem statement is not only part of the Design Thinking process per se, but also because it’s fundamental that teams understand the genesis of what they’re trying to build. As the process and the gears associated with it are set in motion, the problem statement gets further clarified, as it is dissected, and particularly as other relevant sources of information start being brought forth. Those include of course, all the results of research that is done, which includes, and is not limited to, market research, user reviews, analytics, usability testing, user interviews, customer support input, demographics, economical, political, in essence, not just the microcosms around which the solution is created, but also the larger macrocosms, in which it all exists. And at this part of the journey, some dissonance may potentially start to occur, between what was originally conveyed and conceived in the abstract, when the original problem statement was shaped, and what the market, with its trends across a variety of disciplines is indicating (trends that include Design, Shopping Habits, Demographic shifts, Mobility of Populations, Financial Uncertainties, and the list goes on). At this point, it is the responsibility of the Design team, and its professionals, to coalesce the team efforts, and finesse the narrative being told. This is the moment where in the context of sharing the journey, all parties involved in it, need to understand what the collective is embarking on, avoiding at all costs to muffle the dissonance, but instead, document all these different points of view and perspectives, and ultimately finding a way to organize them in a way that is coherent to the narrative. This process of organizing data sources, implies a triage, a clarification of the problem statement, of the user journey, and the inherent need to shuffle elements and ultimately place ideas into a priority listing. This clarification enables for journeys to be better understood for all those involved in the Design Thinking process, and ultimately to the end user, for whom the process of adopting and utilizing a product will be far more successful (from the onboarding moment through repeat utilizations onward). Even if for all products, as Tesler’s Law of UX indicates, there is a certain level of complexity which can not be reduced, the ultimate goal is for the Design Thinking process to abide to Design Principles and produce an output that is honest, useful, usable, understandable, and with an ease of use at its core. Dissonance isn’t worn out or simply erased — the dissonance and divergence morphs into something else, that can be harnessed within the process itself.

In the past I’ve worked in situations and applications where the problem statement was indeed refined, finessed, as a result of research and feedback harnessed from those sessions. Data, both quantitative and qualitative, informed not only shifts in direction, but also helped inform decisions and further focus on specific angles pertaining to innovation, omni-channel experiences, and inclusivity in Design (and just as reminder, Inclusive design doesn’t mean that something is being devised for all people, it actually implies there’s a diversity of ways to participate in the process so that everyone has a sense of belonging). This involved teams being fully aware of all the information, in order to realize that divergence does occur, and it can shape the solution in directions that were not originally contemplated. In my career I’ve also labored in teams where divergence occurred, at very different levels, including across product lines, research outputs, allocation of time and efforts, among others, which essentially translated into Product Solutions that didn’t resonate as effectively as they should with our clients and customer base. Divergence ultimately is not just an abstract statement that implies a difference in ideas and perspectives: if left unchecked and not properly discussed among teams, it rapidly ingratiates itself into the process, disrupting cadences, preventing problems from being properly diagnosed and identified, finally surfacing itself in solutions that are ineffective (for users) and costly for the organization itself.

Reality Check. Divergence and Dissonance will always occur during the Design Thinking process. We’re all evidently human, and as much as there is synergy within a team, as information flourishes from different sources of research, from testing, from users, from the global economy and society itself as it shifts, we’re all faced with opportunities to better understand the problems we’re trying to solve. The onus is on Designers and their peers on the Design Thinking process to understand that divergence and dissonance, isn’t synonymous with discredit, or lack of thoroughness for that matter. Problem statements, and the users for whom these solutions are created are ever evolving, even if those changes are but mere nuances. Acknowledging the evolution of users, their expectations, journeys, contexts in which they operate, is not only sensical for Designers and their peers, but fundamental for successful Design Thinking initiatives and effective Product Solutions.

I’ll conclude with the following quote, from Harry S. Truman on the topic of difference:

It is understanding that gives us an ability to have peace. When we understand the other fellow’s viewpoint, and he understands ours, then we can sit down and work out our differences.

How to Harness Divergent Points of View in the Design Process was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.