What Is Design Thinking?

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What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is an essential and innovative process of solving real-world problems. In order to make our daily lives better and meet our human needs, we are always looking for ways to improve things around us. This could be a product, an environment, a service, or a certain way of doing things. Design Thinking is an iterative and non-linear process that help us with this challenge, removing any assumptions we tend to have about how people think or how thing should be, and coming up with new much faster ways of accomplishing our goals. 

Design Thinking Phases

All though there are variants with three to seven stages, generally the Design Thinking process have five distinct stages. They can also be called phases or even modes. This clear structure allows people to try new things in a practical and comfortable way, unleashing and boosting creativity.


The following five-stage model is proposed by Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, also known as d.school:

  • Empathize – with your users
  • Define – your users’ needs, their problem, and your insights
  • Ideate – by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions
  • Prototype – to start creating solutions
  • Test – solutions

The stages are not always consecutive as a step-by-step process. There is no need to follow a specific order to achieve results. In fact, they could very often happen in parallel and be repeated iteratively. 


This stage of the process is to empathetically understand the problem that needs to be solved, engaging with people to gather more information about the Customer Experience, get into the environment, and observing to gain a deeper perception of the issues. By doing this any assumption is left-back as new insights about the user and their needs are obtained.


All the information gathered during the empathize stage is now organized, analyzed, and synthesized in order define the origin of the problem that was identified and keeping the Customer Experience Journey in mind. This stage will help the team to establish features, functions, and other elements to solve the problem.


Now it is time to start generating ideas. As the team grows to understand the users and their needs they also analyze and synthesize all the information obtained and the most important end up with a human-centered problem statement. There are tons of techniques that can be used to produce ideas and generate insights, like brainstorm, SCAMPER, mind-map, and storyboard. It is important to let the team be comfortable to share any idea without any fear of rejection or criticism, in this way many ideas will be generated giving many possible solutions for the problem. 


The solution is brought to life in this phase. After picking the best solutions, prototypes are created. It is now possible to investigate the problem the solutions generated so far. They must be shared with the team and anyone related available outside of the team as well to experiment and identify the best solution. One by one they are tested, improved and re-tested. In the end, having the approved prototypes will give the team a clearer view of how to expect the user to behave and fell when interacting with the end product. 


Putting the prototype in front of people to test gives a clear perspective of the pain points of the User Experience. Improvements and refinements are also made in this stage in order to eliminate unwanted solutions and get as deep an understanding of the product and its users as possible. The results generated here are used to redefine the problem if necessary.


The Takeaway

Always keep in mind that the fives stages are not always executed sequentially. They are a flexible approach to design and server as guide to the activities that needs to be performed. One of the benefits of it, is that knowledge acquired in the last stages can be used as feedback for the early stages. To make the most of it and gather more and better insights for the project, the stages might be switched, executed in parallel, and repeated as many times as needed to maximize the best solution. 


The Design Thinking process, in short words, is an iterative, focused, and flexible process of collaboration between designers and users, prioritizing on coming up with life-based ideas on how real potential users think, feel and behave.


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