The Ultimate Guide: What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking has been gaining a lot of popularity lately. But, what is Design Thinking? Who is it for? And can you use it too?

Design Thinking is a way of thinking, a manual for innovation, and a way to increase cooperation, productivity, and efficiency within a team. Design Thinking is tied with the concept of human-centered design, which puts the consumer in the center of all creation.

Whether you are creating a Product or Service, a new Marketing campaign, or reinventing a process in your company, Design Thinking can help you make it better.

Why was Design Thinking created?

Often, David Kelley is referred to as the father of Design Thinking. The founder of the global Innovation agency IDEO has undoubtedly done a lot to develop DT. He contributed to the global popularization and widespread use of the methodology and, he and even coined the term Design Thinking. However, he did not invent it.

There were many practitioners, writers and older approaches that contributed to the creation of this systematized way of solving complex problems. You can read the full-length story here.

Design Thinking helps us understand the person who we are creating something for. It makes it easier for us to solve problems and most importantly, do things differently than the competition. Design Thinking tells us to focus on the customer, not on the competition. It drives real breakthrough innovation. And in a time where speed is integral to success, it also enables us to do it faster.

design thinking

What are the 2 principles of Design Thinking?

Humans are problem solvers – problem-solving is in our DNA. Our ability to “find a way” has defined human evolution and the development of our society. But problems have also gotten a lot more complex, almost wicked. To tackle them, we need to embrace the power of empathy and cooperation – the two fundamental principles of design thinking.

Empathy is our ability to see something from another’s perspective. The only way we can create a better solution for their problems is to understand them on a deeper level.

Cooperation is the backbone of our society. Several heads always think better than one. By working together with people who have different ideas, perspectives and expertise, we are able to create the best solutions.

The 5 steps of Design Thinking

Design Thinking is not just a philosophy. Hand in hand with the 2 principles come a set of steps that guide us through the process of innovation. These 5 steps are not fixed but are cyclical.

design thinking

Empathy:

Start by understanding the people you want to help. The easiest way to do this is to get to know them. Spend time with the people you want to help. See how they do things currently. Ask them smart questions and find out what hides under the surface: what solution will really help them live a better life? How can they do things in an easier and more intuitive way?

Pro tip: let go of expectations and preconceptions

Define:

Once you understand the people, you can begin defining the real problem. Sometimes, what we originally thought was the problem is really a cloak for the real issue. And sometimes, the existing solutions are not really solving the core problem. The more you know, the easier it will be to uncover this crucial discovery: What is the problem that you want to create a solution for?

Ideate:

This is where the fun can begin. And the best way to do so is to get a lot of people together and have a group brainstorm. You could also involve users in the process. The goal is to get as many fresh ideas as possible and have fun in the process. We are most creative when we are relaxed, and this step should be something people look forward to. 

Pro tip: set a time constraint to keep things moving

Prototype:

From the previous step, you should have at least a couple of solutions that might work. Now it’s time to put them to the test. See if you can combine them and create a prototype. When you are doing the cycle for the first time, you only need a prototype that will enable you to test the primary use of the product. After you repeat the cycle a couple of times and gain more feedback, you can create a minimum viable product or 3D print it to test the specs too.

Test:

Prototyping and testing go hand in hand. It’s very important to test the solution with the right group of people. It’s very unlikely that your first prototype will be the ideal solution. Use this opportunity to improve your idea (or start all over) because ultimately, all that matters is that your solution really helps people. Testing is key to finding out if your product is viable, and find out the things you’ve overlooked or maybe got wrong. And then, you repeat. 

After you go through the steps, you need to repeat the cycle. However, the cycle doesn’t have to start from the very beginning. Sometimes you need to redefine the problem, or just need a better prototype. The Design Thinking process works so well because it adapts to our needs. Just like your product should, to those of your customers.

Where is Design Thinking Used?

From its early beginnings in product design, Design Thinking has found applications in all industries and fields. It has been used in creating genius marketing campaigns, revolutionary software applications, perfecting services and revolutionizing educational programs. You can read more examples here. 

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Its universal application is based on one simple fact: everything we create is for the use of humans. Design Thinking enables us to understand each other and as a result, build a better future together. 

Why Design Thinking works so well?

Design Thinking is not a magical tool but it can be very helpful in several aspects – ones that are key for increasing the effectiveness of an organization. It will not turn your employees into machines, but it will enable them to work faster and come up with better solutions. Here is how:

When your employees become in tune with the final users/your customers/clients, they are able to focus on the important things. That enables them to think practically and prioritize accordingly. Empathising is also important for working in a group. Design ThInking teaches us that 1. More heads always think better than one and 2. That we need to have empathy for each other when working in a team.

Ultimately, DT helps your employees be more accepting of each other and collaborate to create better solutions. DT helps your employees be better at their job, and have a better time going to work. When you include them in the ideation process, they feel empowered and are motivated to contribute to the realization of the ideas.

Finally – and this cannot be stressed enough – working with Design Thinking makes your employees enjoy working. As a result, they are far more motivated to help the organization realize it’s goals and significantly less likely to leave seeking a better job. Reducing turnover and including loyalty – two key aspects of building an organization that will thrive for a long time.

By introducing Design Thinking in your organization, you will create meaningful work for your employees. But don’t forget: introducing change starts from the top. The leader needs to set the right example and guide the process.

What design thinking is NOT?

Design Thinking is not going to be able to help you if the problem you are trying to solve is not human-related. The Design Thinking process is built around the end-user – and helps us focus on him. It’s clear why it won’t be helpful in cases when the problem we are trying to solve has nothing to do with humans. Think about mathematical problems or chemistry experiments. There,  Design Thinking as a process can more or less be rendered useless. 

design thinking

Design THinking is also not a good tool when the problem is not particularly complex – and had a pretty obvious solution. The methodology itself was created to help us solve wicked problems (complex problems that we do not have a solution for). However, by applying the principles of Design Thinking, we are able to solve problems faster and with more confidence, especially when they are human-related.

Imagine you are creating a questionnaire. You need to get insightful and honest responses from the people that will fill it out. Creating a questionnaire is not something innovative or particularly complex, but by putting yourself in the shoes of the respondent, you will be able to craft it’s flow questions a lot better, and a lot faster.

How can you implement DT in your organization?

Humans are complex creatures. We are unique, and sometimes we can be completely illogical and unpredictable. But, we are problem solvers and we built this amazing and unbelievable world we live in. The humans in your organization are no different. And they are the ones that create the innovative solutions that can make your organization stand out.

They are the ones that communicate with the customers and deal with the little problems from the day to day operations. Employees notice the little things. They are the innovators, the problem-solvers and the fuel that keeps the organization moving forward. 

By implementing Design Thinking practices in the daily operations, you will empower them to be better, both on an individual level and as a group. You can start by learning more about Design Thinking in the context of your industry and organization. We recommend the following articles:

How To Create Successful UX/IX with Design Thinking?

Time vs. Productivity: How to boost productivity in your company by 50%

Empathy Marketing: How to Use Design Thinking in Your Marketing Strategy?

Design Thinking can be used in many ways and ultimately help us understand what people really care about. Ask better questions. And work together to come up with genius solutions.

Put it in practice through workshops that you will organize for your team and see how it transforms the way they think, work and innovate.

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