What is design thinking?

Summary: Design thinking incorporates two critical elements - empathy and feedback - that allow teams to better understand user experience in an authentic and meaningful way. Because of its standardized problem-solving process, large organizations can easily scale with this framework for product development, marketing, people & culture, and financial teams, too.

In day’s past, design was the end-tail for products in business. Adding aesthetic and a “wow” factor that makes products look more appealing to consumers, but may miss the mark on fixing an actual problem.

Today, design is the driving force behind the best products and services we interact with every day. Because of design thinking, multinational brands are spearheading innovation and differentiation in their industries by creating products their users actually need.

Let's look at what design thinking is and how can it help your company.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a human-centric approach to problem-solving based on the needs of users. It combines empathy and rationality to understand and address unmet user needs in order to develop effective, differentiated solutions.

It starts by gathering and organizing qualitative data to gain insight into users' thoughts, motivations, and obstacles in regards to your product or service. After, a unified problem is identified and creates the foundation for brainstorming potential solutions.

When narrowed down to a select few solutions, prototypes are built and tested on user groups for feedback. Finally, after integrating feedback and evolving advanced prototypes, a final product is delivered to market that was validated by users themselves.

Design thinking incorporates two dynamic elements: empathy and feedback.

Empathy and feedback are crucial to design thinking because they are effective instruments for understanding user experience in a way that is authentic, continual, and collaborative. UX failures happen when users can’t place value on a product - a clever solution isn’t always the best solution.

Intimately knowing users, testing potential solutions, and advancing prototypes with user-generated feedback are critical components of design thinking. Because without it, you can’t create solutions that users actually need, or want.

Design thinking brings a collaborative, human-centric element to product development, and it’s this approach of building a holistic view of users and validating solutions based on their insights that promote innovation, differentiation, and ultimately, competitive advantage.

How design thinking works

Since Herbert Simon laid the first basic model of design thinking in “The Science of the Artificial” in the 60’s, many different design thinking models have come to light. More often than not, the process is a variation of these five common phases:

Empathize: In order to begin, you need to have a deeper understanding of your customers — their needs, behaviors, motivations, obstacles, and feelings.

Define: Typically the most challenging part of the process, you want to establish an actionable and relevant problem statement for design thinkers brainstorm about.

Ideate: Or idea generation phase. The goal is to bring teams together to dump their most wild, new, worst, and best ideas, then distill them to a few practical ones to test.

Prototyping: With these chosen solutions, simple representations are built and distributed for feedback, both internally and with focus groups, to determine what ideas work, and which don’t.

Test: Conducting user-centered design tests, live customers interact with the product and provide feedback for a final, validated solution.

Advantages of design thinking

Scalability: Because it’s standardized, larger organizations can easily adapt the process not only for product development teams, but marketing, people & culture, financial teams, and product writers, too. Holding a design thinking workshop is cost-effective and can engage talent at all expertise levels to collaborate on possible solutions.

Flexibility: The process above is only a framework and can be adapted to what fits for your organization. There’s no ironclad law about how much time must go into each phase, just make sure your team is exhaustive. For example, if you don’t have a well-researched and defined problem, the process will be significantly harder.

Empathy-Driven: If you let users steer the solutions that shape their experience, a design thinking process can help turn assumptions into validated solutions focused on their thoughts and needs.

Collaboration: By pulling expertise and insight from multiple departments, teams can get on the same page and easily make effective and efficient decisions, together.

Innovation: Design thinking frees an organization from ingrained patterns of thinking, or schemas. When you encourage collaboration and new ideas, you’re able to explore different ways to solve a user problem. This sets the stage for creativity, differentiation, and competitive advantage.

Final Thoughts

Why engage in design thinking? Because users want more than a clever feature or onboarding process, they want an experience that empathizes with them and meets their needs. The only way to do that is to let them drive the process and continually test new ideas and solutions that bring value to their lives.

Got questions? Want to share your thoughts? Let's connect on Twitter.

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