What is Design Thinking?

Rabeea Wajeeha, Created Mentor

What is design thinking?

The design thinking process is a structured way of solving people-based problems. It’s not just used by designers, but by innovators, business consultants, artists, scientists: pretty much anyone who works in a team.

Although design thinking has been used for ages (coined originally in the 90s), it’s been adopted and popularised in digital product design and development, where innovation is major competitive advantage.

Why use design thinking?

We’re all ‘programmed’ to develop the way we think based on our experiences and expectations. So, as innovative designers, we’re at risk of not seeing things from other people’s perspective; not ‘thinking outside of the box’.

Design thinking is a great way to counter this, because it works without bias and is based on real data, real needs and testing with real people. It’s what people actually want, not what you assume they want.

So, anyone looking shake up their process and eliminate biased thinking can use design thinking to explore new ways of working and developing products.


The design thinking process

There’s a specific method behind the design thinking process. Here’s the breakdown, so you can have more design breakthroughs!

Design thinking has three steps:

1. Understand
2. Explore
3. Materialise

Let’s get into the detail of each one.

1. Understand

Understanding the user is the most important phase in design thinking. This is the point where you do your research, to figure out user needs and pain points. You’ll need to look at all the data, qualitative and quantitative, so you can empathise with the user.

This’ll include some online digging and primary research: interviewing people and asking them questions to pinpoint what’s important to them.

Next, you need to look for patterns and parallels between people’s experience and their pain points. You can do this by getting a group together to transform data into personas. Having a mix of diverse voices is a great way to ensure you come up with original concepts and solutions.

You can use this work to come up with a problem statement: a written objective for the problem to be solved. This step provides focus and clarity.

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2. Explore

Next, it’s time to brainstorm ideas. Get that whiteboard out!

It’s essential to let your imagination run free. No ideas are too out there! Come up with as many ideas as possible. Quantity supersedes quality. At this stage, bring your team together and sketch out as many ideas as possible and then have them share ideas with one another, mixing and remixing, building on others’ ideas. Sounds like fun, right?

This when you put your ideas into practice. Well, not all of them. You’ll need to narrow down your ideas to just one solution to the problem. The goal is to understand which parts of your ideas work and which can be scrapped, by building a prototype (test version) of your solution.

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3. Materialise

Once you’ve got a prototype, it’s time to start the final stage: testing! Testing involves getting your prototype in front of real customers and making iterations to your design based on their feedback.

Testing the prototype to see if it actually works, is key. This means speaking to the users early and often throughout the process. Put your prototype in front of real customers. Figure out if it fixes their problem. If not, keep on editing and testing until you get your ‘eureka’ moment and you’re confident the solution solves the user problem.

Just keep on trucking, you’ll get there.

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The science behind design thinking

The design thinking process is about hypothesis testing and getting answers, but make it successful you also need to stay in touch with the emotions and feelings of the user. It’s a blend of science and art.


Can I still be successful without design thinking?

People expect amazing experiences from their products and services, so design thinking will help you stay on top.  Consumers are accustomed to large amounts of information at their fingertips, so their expectations and needs are growing all the time. 

Design thinking may seem simple on the surface, but it’s a powerful approach to problem solving. What could you achieve when you combine innovation and creativity?

Want to learn more about applying design thinking? Take a look at our UI and UX courses, where we teach how to build design thinking into your everyday work.

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