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design thinking

What Is Design Thinking? – Everything You Need To Know

More than just being a process, design thinking is an ideology interested in solving complex problems in a highly user-centric way.

Design thinking is crucial to any organization because it helps designers systematically remove, teach, learn, and apply human-centric approaches to solve problems in the most creative and innovative way possible.

This article will take you through everything you need to know about design thinking, right from:

  • What is design thinking?
  • How it works,
  • The 5 step design thinking process,
  • And how to get started with design thinking implementation.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is design thinking?

As we mentioned before, design thinking is more than just a DesignOps process. It is an iterative approach to understanding your users and the problems they face and redefining and creating innovative solutions that are easy to prototype and test.

It opens up a completely new way of approaching problems and offers a collection of methods that help you apply this creative mindset.

Who does it involve?

Design thinking is heavily influenced by the methods and processes of designers, but it has applications in various fields, including architecture, business, and engineering.

That’s the best part about it. 

In reality, teams are composed of people from a range of departments, and it can be difficult to develop, categorize, and organize ideas and solutions. 

Design thinking is a process that involves every single stakeholder involved in the design process, including freelancers, creative employees, and leaders who want to inculcate the ideology throughout the organization.

Design thinking applies to almost any field, even those that aren’t design-centric!

How does design thinking work?

In essence, design thinking works by combining what is desirable from a human perspective with what is technically viable and commercially feasible.

desirability, viability, feasibility

Desirability is what makes sense to and for people.

Viability is what is likely to be part of a sustainable design business model.

Feasibility is everything that’s possible in the foreseeable future.

Additionally, it enables those without design training to use original and creative approaches, strategies, and ways of thinking to solve a wide range of problems.

So how does design thinking help your business?

There are a number of ways design thinking can help your business or organization.

  • It revolves around observing and empathizing with the target users and understanding the unmet needs of the people for whom we design products and services (customers, clients, users, etc.)
  • It reduces the risks that come with new ideas, products, or service launches.
  • It enhances your ability to question the problem, assumptions, and implications making it easier to tackle ill-defined or unknown problems.
  • Solutions need to be revolutionary and long-lasting, not just incremental. The design thinking methodology does that for you.
  • Most importantly, design thinking helps your teams collaborate better and really dig into the creative potential of everyone involved.

Now, let’s get into the details of what the design thinking process is.

The four principles of design thinking

As laid out by Christoph Meinel and Harry Leifer of the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, California, these four principles will help you understand the design thinking methodology better.

The four principles are:

The human rule

At its core, design is a human-centric element. Every design-related activity is social in nature, where you try to attract the attention of people to something specific that you want to convey.

No matter the context, design always brings us back to a human-centric point of view.

The ambiguity rule

Regardless of the situation, ambiguity is inevitable, and it cannot be eliminated or oversimplified. 

To be able to view things differently, you must experiment on the edge of your knowledge and skill, pushing yourself to foresee all kinds of possibilities that can arise.

The redesign rule

In every aspect of life, it is crucial to understand that nothing is original, and it holds true for design as well.

All design is redesign. 

While social conditions and technological advancements evolve over time, fundamental human needs never change. 

We essentially redesign the ways in which these constant needs are met to produce results that are compatible with these social and technological changes.

The tangibility rule

As we’ll see in the next section, prototyping is a vital part of the design thinking process.

Having said that, designers can communicate ideas more effectively by turning them into prototypes.

The five phases of design thinking

Based on these four guiding principles, the design thinking process is a non-linear and iterative process that can be divided into five steps or phases: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

design thinking process

Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Phase 1 - Empathize

A critical starting point for design thinking, this phase is spent getting to really understand the user’s wants, needs, and objectives, and developing an empathetic understanding of the problems you’re trying to solve for them.

This entails paying attention to and interacting with others in order to comprehend their psychological and emotional states. 

This is where you, as the designer, will set aside your assumptions and learn the truth about the user during this stage.

To develop a more in-depth grasp of the challenges at hand—as well as their experiences and motivations—you might also wish to immerse yourself in your users’ actual physical environments.

Phase 2 - Define

This phase is dedicated to defining the problem using the information you’ve gathered during the first phase. 

Your observations will be analyzed, and you’ll start to make sense of them in an attempt to define the core problems you have identified up until this point.

Invariably, questions pop up, and you try to answer them. What difficulties are your users facing? Are there patterns you see? What is the crux of their problem, and where do you need to start?

A crucial element of this phase is to understand that you need to frame the problem from the user’s perspective

It’s not “We need to…” 

Instead, go with “Your users need to…”.

Using all the information you’ve gathered, you can move on to the next phase.

Phase 3 - Ideate

Designers are prepared to come up with ideas at the third stage of the design thinking process.

You have developed an understanding of your users and their needs, and you have examined the results of your observations from the previous two phases to develop a user-centric problem statement.

With this strong foundation, you and your team can begin to consider the issue from several angles and come up with creative solutions to your problem statement.

It’s important to emphasize that the Ideate phase is a judgment-free zone because this is where innovation takes place.

Ideation workshops will be held by designers to generate as many fresh perspectives and concepts as they can.

You can utilize a variety of ideation techniques, such as mind-mapping, bodystorming, provocation, and roleplaying. 

Phase 4 - Prototype

This is an exciting stage of the design thinking process where you produce a number of scaled-down, inexpensive prototypes to investigate the generated solutions from the previous phase.

You can share and test these prototypes within the team, in other related departments, or in a small user group outside the design team.

Obviously, this is an experimental phase. The aim here is to identify the best solution possible for each of the problems you identified earlier.

The ideas are implemented within the prototypes and are analyzed one by one, after which you can either accept, improve or reject them based on the users’ experience.

You should have a solid understanding of the product’s constraints and challenges by the time the prototype stage is complete. Additionally, you’ll get a better idea of how actual users act, think, and feel as they utilize the finished product.

That brings us to the final phase.

Phase 5 - Test

User testing follows prototyping, but it’s crucial to remember that this rarely marks the end of the process.

In practice, the findings from the testing phase will frequently force you to revisit a previous step and provide you with the new perspective you need to rework the initial problem statement or generate fresh ideas you hadn’t considered.

This deeper understanding enables you to look into the circumstances of use and how users interact with the product. It can even prompt you to go back to an earlier step in the design thinking process.

After that, you can move forward with further iterations, make adjustments, and polish your work to rule out other options.

The goal here is to gather as much user information as you can to perfect a product that works in tandem with your users’ activities.

It is very important to note that the design thinking methodology is not a linear process. Different teams can work on different phases in parallel, and oftentimes you will find the need to revisit previous iterations and phases if you want to hit the nail on the head!

How to get started with design thinking

Design thinking is a mindset above all. Here are four solid practices you can follow to inculcate this ideology into your teams and businesses.

Change your mindset

Understanding that you are not the customer/user is the first step. 

Your users have their own motivations, goals, and challenges, and it’s crucial for you to understand them from a third-person perspective. 

Next, accept that ambiguity is inevitable and encourage your team to experiment with out-of-the-box thinking and creative solutions, without the fear of failure.

Your work culture needs to be a safe space for your team and colleagues to put their creativity to the test, even if it doesn’t always work. 

Failure is a part of experimentation and you need to make your team feel comfortable with that. Praise your team for their efforts and focus on their learnings, not just the end solution. 

Turn problems into questions

Do NOT rush to solutions. As tempting as it may seem to solve something quickly, it pays more if you ask questions as to why it’s happening and how you can eliminate it in detail before jumping in to fix it.

Before coming up with solutions, design thinking involves generating ideas, conducting research, and posing pertinent questions to clarify the issue.

Give your team the freedom and assurance to question the way things are done now.

Hone your listening skills and learn to empathize

Speak with your stakeholders, customers, employees, and users. Observe or conduct user interviews. Learn about them.

Most of the time, you’ll discover that people love being asked in the first place and are VERY glad to provide feedback (or complain about a service or product).

We frequently are inclined to add our own comments and ideas when conversing with others. Resist the urge to jump in and listen to what they have to say.

You’ll be surprised at how much new information you gain from merely listening to people.

Make your ideas tangible

Build prototypes and implement your concepts as soon as you can. You have enough time to strive for perfection, but now isn’t the time!

Also, get feedback as quickly as you can to avoid wasting time and resources. Users are more willing to provide candid comments for basic prototypes that aren’t quite finished.

Additionally, remember that people are primarily visual learners, so don’t be afraid to be creative. Drawings, diagrams, colors, and other visuals can often help stakeholders and clients understand topics more quickly.

In particular for presentations, people respond better to visual information than they do to text on a page.

How Cubyts can help you implement design thinking

Design thinking is an ideology that paves the way for perfecting user-centric approaches to problem-solving in design. 

If you’re a fresher here, we understand that the process can seem daunting at first, but we’re here to tell you, it really isn’t. And we have something that can help you kickstart this journey.

For your design thinking management, Cubyts has developed a module that gives you a template with optimal design processes that is readily available to anyone using our platform.

Through our module, which was created specifically to make the process simpler for you to use and understand, you can now plan, create, and implement your design thinking with the utmost ease.

Book a demo with us to see how Cubyts can scale your business with DesignOps and design thinking.