A Quick Guide to Design Thinking

  • Because Design thinking is human-centric, it can adapt the creative process to the needs of the user.
  • Design Thinking entails five stages that prioritize innovation and adaptability.
  • Taking a user-friendly perspective helps your project or process break out of a rut and better serve your audience.

“Design Thinking” has become a bit of a buzzword in marketing circles, but it remains a mysterious, vaguely philosophical concept. We know that it’s responsible for everything from improved UX to successful startups, but what is it? How can we put it into action to meet our own goals? Design Thinking crosses boundaries to provide a framework for both thought and action. While there are several variations of the concept, all revolve around the idea that the user comes first.

Let’s look at Design Thinking in more detail and see how it impacts our efforts.

What is Design Thinking?

The core of Design Thinking is that you must prioritize the user when addressing a problem. Often, we become entrenched in our way of thinking, to the point that we can only envision solutions within established structures. If you’re working within an outdated business model or design paradigm, that presents a hurdle to your success. And often, these “solutions” require external resources or unnatural user behavior to work. Design Thinking means that your project or process keeps the user in mind. With Design Thinking, when you “think outside the box,” you’re thinking about complex problems from a human-centric perspective.

That’s what designers do, which is how this concept got its name. However, anyone can put Design Thinking into action.

What are the Stages of Design Thinking?

Design Thinking stemmed from the ideas of Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon in his 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial. However, it was Stanford’s Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) that developed the five-stage model that most people use today.

  • Empathize. The key to successfully implementing Design Thinking is to think about something in terms of the problems it presents. This human-centered approach entails empathy, in which you abandon your preconceptions and think about your project from the user’s perspective. In other words, to find user-friendly solutions to your problem, you must put yourself in others’ shows.
  • Define. In the Define stage, you translate the perspective you gained in Stage 1 into a framework for your problem. This might involve rewriting or reconceptualizing the problem from a human perspective. It’s crucial in this stage to stop basing your process on your desired business results and start thinking about what you can do for your audience.
  • Ideate.This is where innovation comes in. With your human-centric perspective, you can start to develop solutions that stem from the user’s needs rather than your own. Ideation is the process of brainstorming, body storming, and reverse engineering as many ideas as possible to solve your problem.
  • Prototype. Product designers will create prototypes to evaluate their work, but in Design Thinking, anyone can prototype their solution. This might include a workup of a new process, a trial run of a service, or any other mockup of your user-centered solution.
  • Test. The testing stage naturally follows from the creation of the prototype. A big part of Design Thinking is to be agile and iterative, rather than following a rigid process. Testing evaluates the prototype’s efficacy while incorporating user feedback to make the best possible solution. That’s what makes this final stage so powerful.

How Can I Put Design Thinking Into Action?

With these stages in mind, how can you use Design Thinking to improve your products and services? To start, you must think about the user’s needs. What are their primary obstacles, and how can you help them overcome them? Don’t be afraid to abandon the routines and ideas that you’ve been holding dear. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes goes a long way toward your ultimate success.

You can implement strategies such as regularly obtaining feedback from customers or employees, hosting brainstorming sessions and workshops, or envisioning your products and services from an outsider’s perspective. Throughout the process, stay agile and adaptive; don’t assume that what you learn in Stage 1 is still true in Stage 5. In fact, that’s why many who use Design Thinking run the “stages” in parallel rather than sequentially. This iterative process helps you find the best solution to the problem.