Bridging Disciplines

26/06/24 11:27 Comment(s)

Bridging Disciplines: 
Insights from Design Thinking, Psychology, and Agile Development

Recently, I attended the Design Thinking in Practice programme hosted by the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika at UCT in Cape Town. With a clinical psychology and technology management background, I found the intersections between user-centred design, person-centred Rogerian psychology, and agile software development particularly fascinating. This experience highlighted two key areas of convergence: the importance of framing the right question and the value of agile methodologies.

1. Framing the Right Question:

In Design Thinking and Person-centred psychology, framing the right question is essential for effective solutions. This process involves deep empathy and understanding, which are core principles in both fields.

Unconditional Positive Regard:
In Rogerian psychology, unconditional positive regard means accepting and valuing a person without judgement. This principle is crucial in the initial stages of Design Thinking, where the goal is to understand users' needs and experiences without preconceived notions. By approaching users with unconditional positive regard, we create a space for them to share their true feelings and challenges. This openness is vital for framing questions that genuinely reflect the users' needs.

Congruence, or being genuine and authentic, is another key aspect of person-centred psychology. In Design Thinking, this translates to asking honest questions that reflect users' real challenges and aspirations. Authentic questioning builds trust and encourages users to share more, helping us define the right problem accurately.

Accurate Empathetic Understanding:
Accurate empathetic understanding involves deeply grasping another person's feelings and perspectives. This is central to both Design Thinking and Person-centred psychology. Tools like empathy maps and user personas in Design Thinking help achieve this understanding. By accurately empathising with users, we can frame questions that uncover underlying needs and motivations, leading to more impactful solutions.

2. The Value of Agile:

The principles of Agile Development align seamlessly with Design Thinking and Person-centred psychology. Agile methodologies emphasise flexibility, continuous feedback, and iterative progress, which are crucial for adapting to users' evolving needs.

Iterative Learning and Adaptation:
In both Agile development and Design Thinking, the focus is on iterative learning and adaptation. This involves continuously testing ideas, gathering feedback, and refining solutions. In psychology, this iterative process is akin to adjusting therapeutic approaches based on client feedback. By adopting an agile mindset, we can create products and services that are continuously improved and refined, ensuring they remain aligned with users' needs.

Collaborative and User-Centred Approach:
Agile development promotes a collaborative and user-centred approach, similar to Person-centred psychology and Design Thinking. Collaboration with stakeholders and users is essential for understanding their needs and priorities. This approach ensures that the solutions we develop are not only functional but also meaningful and valuable. Involving users throughout the development process allows us to make informed decisions that enhance the user experience.

Flexibility and Responsiveness:
One of the key strengths of agile methodologies is their flexibility and responsiveness. This flexibility allows teams to pivot and adjust their strategies based on new insights and changing user needs. In both Design Thinking and psychology, being responsive to feedback and adapting accordingly is crucial for success. Agile development's emphasis on flexibility ensures we can respond to users' needs in real time, creating relevant and effective solutions.

Interdisciplinary Opportunities:
Integrating psychological principles into design and development processes offers rich opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. By leveraging Rogerian psychology's unconditional positive regard, congruence, and accurate empathetic understanding, we can enhance our ability to frame the right questions in Design Thinking. Adopting agile methodologies can further refine our solutions, ensuring they are continuously improved and aligned with user needs. This interdisciplinary approach ensures that our solutions are deeply rooted in users' real needs and experiences.


My journey through the Design Thinking in Practice programme at the Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika has reinforced the value of interdisciplinary learning. By blending the principles of Person-centred psychology with the user-centred focus of Design Thinking and the iterative nature of Agile development, we can frame the right questions and create more impactful, human-centred solutions. I am excited to explore these intersections further and contribute to a future where technology and psychology collaboratively enhance our human experience.

Written by Nelis Smit