At the verge of the year 2021, Design Thinking (DT) is very popular! It is a very intuitive and human-centered approach for finding innovative solutions. It is all about empathically understanding the problem, creatively finding novel solutions and testing them in form of prototypes. It is iterative – allowing for shorter and longer iteration cycles. Design Thinkers from very diverse professional backgrounds are convinced that it really helps teams to innovate.
TRIZ (the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) is just as effective, but it is not as popular. It is a very systematic algorithm for solving difficult problems. It is based on the laws of technological evolution. It is grounded in a finite set of system parameters, contradictions and innovative solution principles. This parameter set makes it very connectable. TRIZ is also iterative and it often works with analogies. TRIZ experts from diverse professional backgrounds are just as convinced that it is a very powerful approach to innovation.
So, Design Thinking and TRIZ together should be amazing! Theoretically …
In reality, many Design Thinkers do not know about TRIZ or, in case they do know about it, they might not like it very much. The systematical and empirical approach of TRIZ makes it seem “nerdy” instead of “sexy”. On the other hand TRIZ experts in their big majority know about DT, but a lot of them might not use it because of its less systematic approach. While Design Thinking values personal experience and ideas of the team, TRIZ emphasizes empirical knowledge about technological evolution and solution principles.
However, there are TRIZ experts, who already combine both approaches and there might be a lot of Design Thinkers who could benefit from the structured TRIZ approach, if it was less “nerdy”.
What would a methodology look like, that combines the powerful systematics of TRIZ with the motivating playfulness of Design Thinking?
What could be a “Best-of-two-worlds” approach? Our first contribution to this discussion is the Game of Conflicts: a Plug-in, focusing on conflicting parameters (in TRIZ called technical or physical contradictions), which can be used in different phases of a Design Thinking process. It can be plugged-in during the research and discovery phase or in the solutioning phase right after ideation.
A fast-forward method to analyze the problem area
In the first case, it works as a fast-forward method to analyze the problem area which the design team wants to work on. Based on a thorough understanding of the existing conflicts, the team can do better research and define their innovation challenge better.
A method for challenging ideas
In the second case, it helps challenging ideas which came out of an ideation session. Before the team goes into prototyping, they can play the game and identify what conflicts would arise with their current idea (e.g. our idea will improve some properties of our concept/product but if we are honest, it also makes some properties worse). Unlike a traditional TRIZ approach, where the team would have to go through a “boring” list of parameters our Game of Conflicts delivers the empirically identified TRIZ parameters in a playful and entertaining way. After playing the game, the team can either continue with a design thinking approach – building a conflict prototype – or make use of the TRIZ matrix to identify solution principles which help to resolve the identified conflict.
We are convinced, that many people in the Design Thinking world can appreciate the experiential way of introducing TRIZ systematics into their approach. And we hope, that TRIZ experts appreciate this playful way of doing a contradiction analysis, too.