UX/UI Design

Design Thinking

An Introduction to Design Thinking Process

Design thinking empowers problem-solving through empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing, fostering innovation and creativity.

Design thinking is a methodology that gives a solution-based approach to finding issues. It helps in confronting complicated matters that are unclear or unknown by:

  • Understanding the human wants
  • Re-framing the problem in human-centric ways
  • And by adopting an active approach in prototyping and testing.

Now let's deep-dive into this topic.

What is the Design Thinking process?

Design thinking is an ideology that tackles complicated issues, otherwise referred to as "wicked" problems.

"Wicked" problems are issues that can't be resolved in ordinary ways and approaches. On the other hand, we have "tame" cases, which might be solved by applying a tried-and-tested algorithmic program or logic.

Design thinking nurses an outside-the-box approach, stressing creativity, innovation, and the user's wants. The design thinking process uses the ideology to real-world, wicked issues. Unlike problem-based thinking, which is about obstacles and limitations, the design thinking method is all about the outcome.

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Image Author: Jason Goodman

Stages in the Design Thinking Process

Understanding the 5 stages of design thinking can help empower anyone. In addition, the design thinking process steps help resolve complicated issues that occur around us — in our corporations, in our countries, and even on the size of our planet.

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design specialized in Stanford's five-stage design thinking process steps (aka the d.school). The 5 stages of design thinking are about the following:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

When considering the 5 steps of design thinking, it's necessary to remember that it's not a linear method. Though we have a tendency to state the process in terms of successive steps, it's really an extremely repetitive loop. With every step, you'll create new discoveries that may require you to go back to the previous stages.

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Design Thinking Process Steps

Stage 1: Empathize—Research Your Users' Desires

Here, you must try to gain an empathetic understanding of the matter you're making an attempt to resolve, generally through user analysis. Empathy is crucial to a humanitarian style method like design thinking. It permits you to keep aside your own assumptions regarding the world and gain real insight into users' desires.

Stage 2: Define—State Your Users' Desires and Issues

It's time to accumulate the knowledge gathered throughout the empathize stage. You then analyze your observations and synthesize them to outline the core issues you and your team have known. These definitions are referred to as drawback statements. You'll produce personas to assist your efforts before continuing to execution.

Stage 3: Ideate—Challenge Assumptions and Build Concepts

Now, you're able to generate ideas. The solid background of information from the above 2 phases suggests that you'll begin to "think outside the box," seek alternative routes to look at the matter, and establish innovative solutions to the drawback statement you've created. Brainstorming is constructive here.

Stage 4: Prototype—Start forming Solutions

This is an experimental part. The aim is to spot the most straightforward attainable resolution for every drawback found. Next, your team should try to manufacture some cheap, scaled-down versions of the product (or specific qualities found in the product) to research the concepts you've generated. This might involve merely paper prototyping.

Stage 5: Test—Try Your Solutions Out

Evaluators start testing the prototypes at this stage. Though this is often the penultimate part, teams will typically use the results of this step to redefine any new issues. So, you'll return to previous stages to create additional iterations, alterations, and refinements – to search out or rule out various solutions.

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What is the Value of the Design Thinking Process?

Applying design thinking will facilitate saving significant amounts of money quickly as a result of directing attention to the precise solutions needed—immediate price savings are noticed as a part of the ROI of design thinking.

Design thinking provides a straightforward approach to addressing the issues —often discovering a unique approach to solving them—while also providing insights and knowledge necessary to assemble practical solutions that help businesses build value.

Great design is associated with the outcome of design thinking, a technique utilized by designers to resolve complicated issues and realize fascinating solutions for customers. As a result, the focus on innovation has shifted from engineering-driven to design-driven, from product-centric to customer-centric, and marketing-focused to user-experience-focused.

Design thinking reduces the unpredictability and risk of innovation by participating customers or users through a series of prototypes to find, check and refine ideas. In addition, design thinkers place confidence in client insights gained from real-world experiments, not simply historical knowledge or marketing research.

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Where Does the Design Thinking Process Come From?

We can say that design thinking has turned into a buzzword in recent years. However, it's an approach that has really been evolving since the 1960s. So let's check out the history of the design thinking method.

1969: The Sciences Of The Artificial

American sociologist Herbert Simon published an article that is claimed to contain design thinking foundations. Within "The Sciences Of The Artificial," Herbert Simon launched seven steps as an innovative approach to problem-solving. This seven-stage model is highly similar to the current five-stage design thinking process.

1973: Horst Rittel and “wicked problems”

Design theorist Horst Ritten was another key figure in shaping the design thinking method. Around the 1970s, Rittel coined the term "wicked issues" to explain advanced problems that are difficult to outline and have no set variety of potential solutions.

1991: The Birth of IDEO

In the early 1990s, the international design and business firm IDEO was founded. IDEO is usually considered the foremost instrumental figure to introduce design thinking to the world. The IDEO design thinking model divides the method into 3 key phases: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.

1992: Richard Buchanan's Wicked Problems In Design Thinking

Another design intellect, Richard Buchanan, connected Rittel's wicked issues to design thinking when he published "Wicked problems in design thinking."

2005: Design Thinking as a University Subject

In the early 2000s, design thinking began to be introduced as a course at the university level. A notable leader during this field was the Stanford school of design (or the d.school) that began teaching design thinking in 2005.

These are some of the events that have contributed to the design thinking method as we all know it nowadays.

How to Apply Design Thinking to Your Problems to Generate Innovation

1. Visualize Your Issue

Visualization reveals vital themes and patterns, whether you're resolving important world issues or managing micro-level actions. Venn diagrams, flow charts, and graphs assist you in identifying every moving part and drawing conclusions between them. Likewise, finding patterns helps artistic thinkers better interpret nuances in information and trends.

2. Challenge Common Assumptions

This "question everything" approach helps break down social norms and assumptions to produce out-of-the-box ideas. For example, imagine you're a town planner attempting to include additional trees into an urban landscape.

Typically, you'll state your challenge like this: several buildings and not enough grass to plant trees. By complex assumptions, you'll instead raise a matter like, what if we find some way to plant trees on top of buildings? When you break down the barriers preventing success, you take the primary step towards an intelligent solution.

3. Reverse Your Thinking

Instead of being discouraged and concerned with major roadblocks, accept your drawbacks.

This means turning negative feedback into a positive one.

For example, let's say your main objective is to create complete brand awareness within the millennial target market.

Instead of asking how do I get the attention of the current target market? You'll reverse your thinking to ask yourself: how come this target market is rarely exposed to my brand?

Was this target market a part of our social media campaigns or market research?

By reversing things, you'll see issues from an exceedingly new point of view and choose what to focus on.

4. Understanding Your Audience

Designers usually ask themselves: what bigger purpose will my design serve?

You can also raise this question whether your scenario involves coworkers, managers, friends, or maybe family.

Begin with easy questions, such as who else will this problem affect? How will it affect them? What's one issue that may alleviate their suffering?

By empathizing with your own audience, your drawback resolution method becomes more meaningful. In turn, you become additionally dedicated to providing impactful, long-term solutions.

5. Embrace Risk and Failure

Designers are experts of innovative thinking for one primary reason: they embrace risk & failure.

If you're committed to implementing design thinking into your life, you need to overcome the fear of failure.

Once you acknowledge and understand the probability of failures, you’re free to explore new ideas and solutions.

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Obstacles to Problem Solving and Innovation in Design Thinking

Understanding the obstacles that stop teams from reaching innovative solutions that solve underlying issues could be a vital facet of the design thinking method. After we ignore a significant influencing problem when attempting to develop a solution, we tend to set ourselves up for a negative result or even a problematic scenario than the one we are trying to resolve. To ensure your team has the right surrounding for design thinking, let's look at the foremost common obstacles to problem solving and innovation.

1. Unclear Goals

A huge no-no is diving into execution without a plan on executing the objectives. Don't ever send a group of individuals into an ideation session without one or more clear goals. Familiarizing yourself with the 5 stages of the design thinking process can assist you in setting the objectives to solve a problem.

2. Closed-Mindedness

A closed mind can't build on external ideas. We've all witnessed this in one way or another—one who is convinced that their own views are superior to anyone else's becomes oblivious to the worth of the contributions created by others.

3. Limiting ideas

There is also a natural tendency for groups to chop their brainstorming sessions as short as soon as they have many (superficially) "good enough" ideas. Maybe the manager is unwilling to allot additional time delving into the unknown and just sees the clock ticking. Unfortunately, limiting ideas right after scoring some effective-looking ideas can render any brainstorming session worthless. If the time is so terribly restricted, you won't bother initiating an ideation session at all—as they're going to simply be a waste of the team's time.

What Is a Design Sprint?

A design sprint is a distinctive five-day method for corroborating ideas and finding massive challenges through prototyping and testing ideas with customers.

In 5 days, the design Sprint can assist you to:

  • Understand - Outline the problem and decide an area to focus on.
  • Ideate -  Sketch out solutions on paper.
  • Decide - Create choices and switch your ideas into a testable hypothesis.
  • Prototype - Create a sensible prototype.
  • Test - Gather feedback from live users.

Working in a design sprint, you'll be able to crosscut the endless-debate cycle and compress months of your time into one week. In addition, the design sprint provides you a superpower: you'll be able to fast-forward into the longer term to examine your finished product and client reactions before creating any high-priced commitments.

How can I become an expert in Design Thinking?

1. Study the Theoretical side

If you would like to be associated in a specific field, you've got to achieve some data around the basics. Read essential core theories and perceive totally different aspects of styles like typography, layout, grids, colors, composition, etc. this can assist you in moving ahead and gaining additional experience. Here are some book recommendations:

  • Change by Design, Tim Brown
  • Creative Confidence, Tom Kelley & David M Kelley
  • Designing for Growth, Jeanne Liedtka & Tim Ogilvie
  • The Design Thinking Playbook, Michael Lewrick

2. Follow the trends

Trends keep changing, and it's essential to cope with them. You can follow some new developments within the design world from sites like Dribbble, Behance, Abduzeedo, CreativeBloq, and even Pinterest.

3. Learn from the specialists

If you would like to be an excellent designer, you've got to follow some great designers in your field. There are a variety of online platforms to seek out some knowledgeable designers who freely share their insights. You can check out Khoi Vinh, Jared Spool and Chris Do for user experience design.

4. Learn the Principles

Similar to the different stages of design thinking explained above, the principles of design thinking revolve around subjects close to it such as user-centricity, collaboration, ideation, experimentation, and bias towards actions.  Understanding these principles of design thinking are vital when attempting to master this field.

5. Increase your Observation power

According to IBM’s design thinking framework, trying to observe from a user’s POV can help uncover their needs and understand the context of their problems. This gives you access to their raw feedback.  Sharpen your observation powers to identify areas that can’t be easily explained by customers.

6. Get some assistance

It's a smart choice to seek mentorship for any kind of design work. As a result, whenever you produce a 'piece of art,' the mentor will criticize it constructively. But, on the other hand, if you get an honest mentor, you'll get some serious, valuable feedback for your design.

7. Collect feedback

Collecting feedback is extremely important for your design thinking ability. Feedback can invariably encourage you to design more and also the input can assist you in improving your styles. Seek constructive criticism and work on your weaknesses.

8. Explore totally different designs

Once you're familiar with trends, you should invariably attempt to diverge and build your signature style. Instead, seek totally different designs and artworks by crossing the boundaries of the experience you've got. In addition, it'll provide you with concepts from other aspects of society.

9. Experiment with Tools

When you get your hands on the tools to follow the design you're specializing in, you ought to attempt to experiment with them. Of course, you may fail initially; however, 'practice makes perfect' exceptionally works to achieve some valuable data from the failures… which will produce your masterpiece.

10. Do some Hustling

If you're learning to design, you must look for a few side gigs through friends and family or freelance sites. This can provide you with a concept of real-world business tasks. In addition, it'll help you learn the business sector and how to meet the demands of the business.

11. Keep on practicing

Build a schedule that will provide you with some time to practice each day. You can use the Pomodoro technique to include some time to practice between work.

12. Recreate the style

We all have each of our favorite brands and styles. Making an attempt to recreate them could be an intelligently followed drill. You'll be able to build a reproduction or modify them to form it distinctive by adding your ideas. Then, simply certify that you don't share those styles online to avoid any risk of plagiarism.

13. Analyze websites

You may get many style aspects like typography, composition, and part placement on different websites. So you've got to undertake to envision everything from the angle of a designer. There's a vast ocean of style data out there.

14. Spark yourself with motivation

There is a precise need to be compelled to invariably rekindle your need to style from motivation. Generally, we tend to lose our motivation altogether once we fail. So specialize in increasing your zeal to make distinctive styles each day. You'll be able to follow some professional psychological features that speak to extend your interest.

16. Don’t chase behind perfection

Reach for perfection if you want to be the most effective at your job. After listening to detail, your style stands out compared to others. You may invariably be the primary alternative if you try to deliver perfection. No matter how much time and effort you and your team spend on a product, it may seem that there is more to be done to make the product perfect. Unfortunately, this can do more harm when sticking to the deadlines and releasing on time. Instead, understand that perfection will always be a continuous process that will always happen in terms of improvements, and it’s essential to know when the product looks the best for release


You now understand what design thinking is and how it can be used in practically any situation. Design thinking is a problem-solving strategy that increases the likelihood of success and breakthrough innovation.

If you're ready to start implementing design thinking into your business right away, schedule a free consultation call with one of our experts at Wandr.

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