Understanding Design Thinking

Who cares?

It’s something only designers should be concerned about… Right?


Wrong. It’s important for everybody to understand.

What is it? 

Design thinking is a process that solves problems through creative solutions. It’s a framework for solving issues as well as discovering opportunities that may not have been considered when the problem was introduced. 

It's applicable to all walks of life, industries, and areas of expertise. Its approaches can be used as the foundation for driving a business towards greater financial success. 

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, the world’s most reputable design thinking company, describes design thinking as “upgrading within constraints”. 

Design thinking = Connection through understanding.

How does the Design Thinking Process Work?

Design thinking is a cost-effective way to test your ideas before you commit to them. 

Generally, the process takes about one week and requires a team of seven or larger and their undivided attention (however it can be done with very small teams). 

This may sound like a large time-suck, but it’s better to have a larger team maintain a common understanding at all times than to have an endless series of meetings to explain the outcomes and rationales later.

Design thinking normally consists of five phases over five days, and they’re as follows: 

Note: This process requires a diverse team. Different perspectives are extremely important.

Phase 1 - Empathize

If you can’t put yourself in the shoes of your customers, how can you truly understand what they want? 

Design thinking is the process of identifying an unmet customer need by way of design. In order to fully understand what these unmet needs are, teams must put themselves in the shoes of their customers.

A great way to do this is to use empathy maps. Each map will outline a different target user and the problems they may be facing as members of that demographic. Really seek to walk through your customers day in order to gain a deep understanding of their internal state(s), and their environment(s).

Once your assumptions have been made, get out there and watch your customers! See how they currently deal with the problems that they face. Take notes. Ask them questions. All that good stuff.

Were the assumptions you made correct?

Without accurate data here, it’s difficult to move on to the next phase, defining the problem.

Phase 2 - Define

Your problem statements must be actionable. 

In other words, you need to clearly define the problem. It’s extremely important to frame the problem in an actionable way to inspire ideas. 

Ex. “Team communication issues” vs. “How can we help our team better communicate”?

If there are proposed problem statements that aren’t communicated well, make sure to break them down into their simplest form. You could be on to something. 

Once the problem has been identified, picture what your ideal customer(s) looks like and note their attributes, wants, and needs. It’s important to focus on one or two ideal customers at this point. 

Use your empathy map as a guide.

Phase 3 - Ideate

If you're here, you’ve conquered phases one & two, which are arguably the hardest.

Once the problem has been properly defined, the next challenge is to begin planning what some solutions would look like. 

At this point, you should begin thinking about what success looks like for not only your customers, but for your business. 

Have a whiteboard and sticky notes ready, and begin generating as many ideas as possible without discriminating against any of the ideas proposed. The design thinking room is a no judgment zone. Plus, any ideas that seem silly or basic can always be expanded upon. 

Once the team has completely exhausted ideas, each idea should be reflected upon individually. The benefits and the issues that the idea may face are considered and scored, and the best solutions move on to the prototyping round. 

Refer to your ideal customer and picture how they would use the solution. 

Does it serve their needs? 

Phase 4 - Prototype

A prototype is an operating version of a proposed solution. It’s a quick way to take what’s in your head and make it real. You will gain insight from the customer as to what works, and what can be changed once the prototype has been made. 

You can, and should make as many prototypes as you can within a constrained period of time, in order to gain a deeper understanding of how your creations serve the unmet need of your customer. From there it may be found that certain features from different prototypes can be merged to maximize need-meeting potential (I made that term up).

Though prototypes don’t need to be perfect, they need to be functional enough for the user to understand and feel how the final version of the product will work. 

Prototyping traditionally involves using readily available physical materials. However, you will come across prototypes that require being completely digital. For these, you're probably going to need programs such as Marvel, or Invision to emulate mobile and web experiences. 

As you’re completing your prototypes, line up some interviews for your target customers so they can begin to give you feedback. 

Phase 5 - Testing & Feedback

No longer is your idea just a concept, it’s now tangible. 

The testing and feedback phase allows for insights that can give further clarity as to what the problem you’re trying to solve is.  Ultimately, this phase will let you know if you're heading in the right direction.

Become one with naïvety. 

Set aside your assumptions and make sure you ask a hell of a lot of questions. Get your interviewees to explain their answers. These methods of interviewing and questioning will make issues clear, and everyone will be on the same page. 

Note: Try to conduct your interviews in the homes or offices of your interviewees. This will put them at ease. 

Start with general questions, then move on to specific ones.

When you’re with your interviewees:

  • Show them the prototype
  • See if they can figure out how it works on their own
  • Question what they're thinking constantly, in order to learn their thought processes while interacting with your prototype
  • Take notes
  • Give your interviewee a gift in exchange for their time

After you leave:

  • Summarize your notes
  • Look for patterns between customer interactions with the prototype
  • Compare your notes pre-interviews, to post interviews
  • Note the differences 
  • Decide what changes need to be made to the prototype before the next iteration

That's all there is to it.

    At its core, design thinking is a better way to design solutions for users. The process as a whole helps those who are looking to create, dig deep and find the best ways to improve customer experiences. 

    How can design thinking transform the way you approach your business objectives?

    Come chat! Let's figure it out together.

    bedouin studios