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Introduction to Design Thinking

When you think about the term “Design thinking”, the first common explanation that comes to mind is maybe “thinking for the designers” or “thinking for the designs”. Both the ways, the picture that fills the head involves the paints, rulers, and paper-sheets which are the weapons for people involved in any kind of designing. We assume this field of thought is restricted to that crowd. But is it true? For people like you and me, who don’t lay in that category of creative nerds, is this topic beneficial enough for us as well? Let’s find out.

According to the basic definition of the term, Design Thinking is a problem-solving approach keeping the user at its core. It involves a process that initiates with the problems of people and ends with unique solutions to suit their requirements. Design Thinking is all about studying the requirements of the business as well as the consumers and come up with a mutual solution to benefit both. It helps the designers to observe and develop empathy with the client and helps in questioning the problem, assumptions, and implications.

It is considered a very useful way to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown. This is done by re-framing the problem, ideation through brainstorming sessions, and practicing a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing. With ongoing experimentation of sketching, testing, prototyping, and trying out concepts and ideas, Design Thinking helps in systematically extracting, learning, and applying these techniques to solve problems creatively.

To sum the whole process of design thinking, it is all about building empathy with the users, brainstorming tons of ideas, creating several prototypes, sharing them with the clients, and finally unmasking your creative solution in the real world.

Design Thinking Approach Design thinking revolves around the human ability to recognize patterns, to be intuitive, and to create ideas that are emotionally meaningful while being functional. The elements of design thinking come together to form an iterative approach—one which you can try and adapt to suit the needs of your clients. To understand Design Thinking, the basic process is generally divided into five stages: Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. But to understand it more clearly, below is the division that will help you understand it better.

Phases of Design Thinking 1. Empathise:

The first stage of the process is to understand the business and its users. This involves talking to stakeholders to get their perspective on the problem they are trying to solve and their customers/users to understand who they are, their motivations, and why what it is that keeps them moving forward. This is done through interviews, observing, engaging, and empathizing with people and discussions with relevant stakeholders. Empathy allows design thinkers to gain insight into the needs of the users by setting aside their assumptions and indulge in the problems and motivations of the user.

2. Define: During this stage, a design thinker puts together the collected information from the previous stage. Next, they will analyze the observations and synthesize them to define the core problems identified. The gathered ideas are then used to establish features, functions, and any other crucial elements that can solve the problems or, at the very least, allow users to resolve issues on their own with minimum difficulty. The problem is then defined as a problem statement in a human-centered manner.

3. Ideate After the successful definition of the problem, now is the time to generate ideas. With the empathy phase, being a design thinker, you have now understood your users’ motivations and needs as well as analyzed and synthesized your observations. The next step is to generate ‘fresh ideas’ that have not been used previously to see the problem in a different light. There are hundreds of Ideation techniques that are typically used to stimulate free thinking. It is advised to jot down as many ideas as possible at the beginning of the Ideation phase. Try to pick a few well-known Ideation techniques by the end of the Ideation phase to investigate and test your final ideas and find the best way to either solve the problem or pitch the resources to circumvent it.

4. Prototype: After the successful compilation of the possible ideas to solve the problem, the design team will now create a series of inexpensive versions of the product to test the ideas in the previous step. The solutions are then implemented within the prototypes, and sequentially investigated and labeled as either accept, improved, re-examined, or reject based on the users’ feedback.

5. Test This is the final stage but in an iterative process, the acquired results from the testing phase are implemented in the market to get the more detailed information regarding them. Designers rigorously test the completed product using the best problem solutions gathered during the prototyping phase. Even in this phase, alterations are made to rule out a few problem solutions and form a deeper understanding of the product and its users.

It is essential to understand that the five phases are not necessarily sequential. You are not bound to follow a specific order. Given that, one must not consider the phases as a step-by-step process. Instead, it is an overview of the phases that contribute to an innovative project.

The Power of Storytelling Transforming your ideas into a story is a beautiful craft that helps the process of problem-solving in a much more creative way than you think. Weaving stories inspire opportunities, ideas, and solutions. With the prototypes you ideate, stories are framed and plotted around real people and their lives. What makes the art of storytelling powerful is that you can create magic through visuals rather than just pumped words. The audience can connect to it better as there is a wide scope of imagination. With the power of depiction and screenplay, the concept of design can be achieved more creatively.

Design Thinking or 'Outside the Box' Thinking? Design Thinking is often termed as ‘outside the box’ thinking by many people around the globe but is it?

People consider it as ‘outside the box’ thinking mainly as designers attempt new ways of thinking that do not abide by the common problem-solving methods. But thinking fresh, new ideas are just a part of the ideation phase of the broader concept of Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is based on the intention to provide solutions that can improve the products by analyzing user interactions. One major element of ‘outside the box’ thinking is to prove the previous assumptions wrong or insufficient– i.e., to prove their validity. Once we have questioned and investigated a problem, the solution-generation process can help us determine the genuine flaws of that particular problem.

Why Design Thinking is termed ‘outside the box’ thinking can be because it offers us a means to dig a bit deeper and think outside the monotonous, traditional solutions to come up with ideas that are never looked upon in a new light.

Science and Rationality in Design Thinking Some of the prominent scientific activities enveloped in design thinking include:

  • User analysis

  • User interaction

  • Investigating the products’ operational conditions by:

    • Researching their needs,

    • Accumulating their previous experiences from projects,

    • Considering the product conditions,

    • Testing the parameters

    • Testing the practical applications of alternative solutions.

Unlike a traditional scientific approach, where most of the known qualities or characteristics of a problem are tested to land a solution, Design Thinking investigates the complexity of a problem to simplify it.

After taking into consideration the problem solutions, the selection process is supported by rationality. Designers are encouraged to come up with new ideas to eradicate the previous solutions for each identified problem during the design process.

Keeping this approach in mind, it is wise to say that Design Thinking is not just about thinking outside of the box, but also on its edge, its flap, its corner, and under its barcode, as Clint Runge said.

Why Design Thinking is Relevant

At times, the concept of design thinking looks a lot like common sense, but practically, thinking like a designer is much more difficult than it sounds. In many ways, design thinking involves practicing a methodology that makes you comfortable while wading into the messy complexity of creative craftsmanship. The better you practice, the more you’ll be creatively confident to take bigger challenges.

So, why is design thinking relevant to the challenges today?

The world today thrives on creativity and innovations. With this, comes the challenge of being unique and the best. To attain that confidence and creative approach, people are accepting and learning the art of design thinking more freely than before. Creative confidence gives people wings to fly with ease. By learning the foundations of design thinking, people can solve these complex problems in the real world.

The impact of design thinking continues to be more evident and acceptable with time. The design has seen a huge shift from being just a hobby to a full-time profession in the board room with C-level executives recognizing its role in strategy. For instance, a global IBM survey of over 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 varied industries highlighted the fact that the executives believe that beyond integrity, management discipline, or vision, the world requires creativity.

Design Thinking is for Everybody Design Thinking techniques serve every level of a business. It is not an industry-specific practice, designated just for designers but it is widely used by creative employees, marketers, freelancers, and leaders who wish to infuse it into various levels of an organization, or a product to drive new alternatives for the business.

Design thinking uses techniques to make products more relevant to the person using them, keeping in mind the technological feasibility and economic viability. Design thinking takes command by giving these tools to people who are not professional designers and making them able to solve their problems more efficiently.


The structure of design thinking is natural from research to rollout. Indulgence in the past experiences of the customers produces data, which is then transformed into insights, which later decides on the design criteria to brainstorm fresh solutions. The success of those solutions is later examined and tested with rough prototypes to develop innovations for real-world experiments.

With the involvement of customers and stakeholders to define the problem and develop the solution, design thinking holds a broader commitment to innovate. Design thinking helps innovators collaborate on the solutions by providing a structure to the process. Certainly, this sphere of learning is not restricted to design professionals and could be very helpful to a layman who wishes to innovate a brighter light for the world.

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