Design Thinking: An introduction

User Experience & Usability

Many of you will have come across the term Design Thinking but may not be 100% sure on what it means or how to apply it. Or perhaps you are familiar with the approach, but struggle to sell the idea to other stakeholders in your business. Don’t worry, we’re here to help!

Design Thinking is a way of problem-solving that prioritises user needs, whilst encouraging creativity and collaboration within a multi-disciplinary team. Typically, it is used in the development of products or services but can ultimately be applied to any challenge involving a human experience and is scalable to global issues such as tackling poverty and climate change.

If you work as part of a product development team, you have probably followed Design Thinking principles, even without realising it. In reality, the ideas and methods unified by the practice were around long before the 1990s when the term was born. They also overlap with several different frameworks including human-centred and service design.

It is important to understand that Design Thinking is a mindset as well as a process, and that both are essential to promote innovation. Let us explain…

Design Thinking Process

Loop image of the design thinking process - Empathise, Implement, Prototype, Test, Ideate & Define

The Design Thinking process is split into six stages:

You might be thinking that few projects are ever that straightforward! It is because of this that the Design Thinking process is intended to be used flexibly dependent on the needs of the project – you can conduct each stage independently, repeat them or loop back to a previous objective when needed. For example, if additional questions surface during ideation, the team may need to understand an additional use case at the Empathise stage before prototyping begins. The Prototype and Test stages are also likely to go through several cycles before a product or service is ready to be implemented, and the work doesn’t just stop there.

Design Thinking Mindset

The six stages of Design Thinking are brought together by a common mindset which must be adopted to maximise the effect of the approach. This means that when building the project team, you should ensure members are open minded, curious, non-judgmental, and collaborative. However, you should also enlist those with specialist knowledge to offer different perspectives and expertise throughout the project.

By introducing the concept of Design Thinking upfront, you can be confident that everyone understands the process, and is ready to follow the principles below:

  • Keep the user in focus
    Understand and empathise with users in order to think beyond personal experiences and assumptions to reach innovative solutions. Place user insights at the core of each stage in the process, with a continued openness to research to address any unknowns.
  • See problems as opportunities
    Remain optimistic, with an open mind about how to solve each challenge, and re-frame problems in a way that motivates the team to move forwards. Recognise when there is an opportunity to build on the ideas of others to support development through collaboration.
  • Show, don’t tell
    Communicate insights and ideas visually to support creativity, storytelling and impact within the team and wider business. Take the same approach to user testing, using visual prototypes to uncover natural reactions to solutions.
  • Bias towards action
    Drive progression by holding workshops instead of meetings and using low fidelity prototypes to realise and develop ideas early. Frequently gain input from users to allow iteration towards the best solutions.
  • Embrace experimentation
    Don’t be afraid of ambiguity or failure and take risks early in the process when there are fewer consequences. When a technique, tool or idea isn’t working, try something new whilst learning from previous outcomes.

(alt="a business creative team working together on mobile application software design project.")

Benefits of Design Thinking:

So, why use a Design Thinking approach, and how can you encourage others to buy into it?

Overall, Design Thinking helps teams to understand and address challenges, to improve both the user experience and success of the business. Some of the main benefits include:

  • Increased user satisfaction
    The approach promotes a user-centred focus that prevents the team being led by assumptions or constraints, by demanding up-front user research to inform, shape and test solutions. This increases the likelihood that the implemented product or service will meet or exceed the needs and desires of the target market.
  • Streamlined business processes
    Design Thinking offers a tried and tested framework for problem-solving that supports efficiency and innovation, both of which offer a competitive advantage for businesses. The principle of taking quick action to explore possible solutions early in the process, is also likely to save resources, time, and money.
  • Enhanced creativity
    Embedded principles and techniques aim to break down barriers and encourage divergent, unrestricted thinking. Diverse perspectives and expertise from a multi-disciplinary team further supports the building of innovative, yet practical solutions.
  • Building a collaborative culture
    Stakeholders are involved and offered an equal voice that is free from judgment at every stage of the process. This promotes the importance of human-centred design across the business and initiates an ongoing dialogue between different teams, with input from end users.

We will continue exploring each stage in the Design Thinking process in more detail over the coming weeks. Here are the first two stages we have covered so far:

Stage 1 – Empathise

Stage 2 – Define

Stage 3 – Ideate

Stage 4 – Prototype

Stage 5 – Test

Stage 6 Implement

Speech bubbleIf your business needs support implementing a Design Thinking approach, we are here to help.

More like this

Design Thinking: Empathise

Welcome to the first stage of the Design Thinking process, Empathise...

Welcome to the first stage of the Design Thinking process, Empathise...

Design Thinking: Define

Welcome to stage two of the Design Thinking process… Define...

Welcome to stage two of the Design Thinking process… Define...

Design Thinking: Implement

Welcome to stage six of the Design Thinking process… Implement...

Welcome to stage six of the Design Thinking process… Implement...