An Introduction to Design Thinking: A beginners guide

Getting started with the design thinking process

Featured image

Amid a world full of complex problems, one requires a systematic way to solve them. A problem that is recognized needs to be addressed and solved.

Many techniques can be used to solve the problem. Some examples of these techniques are Six thinking hats, Lightning Decision Jam, Problem Definition Process, The five whys, and many more

This blog post explains a new problem-solving ideology and process that is human-centered and is derived out of methods followed by Designers. It is called Design Thinking. This post also explains the purpose, principles, phases, and benefits of Design Thinking.

What is Design Thinking?

An approach based on methods and processes in various fields such as architecture, engineering and business, that is used for practical and creative problem solving is called Design Thinking. We discuss design thinking process and methods in the later part of this article.

Design thinking is a solution-based approach to problem-solving, and it is quite different from the problem-based approach. Here are some of the points that will help in understanding the difference.

Difference between Solution-based and Problem based Thinking

The difference between a solution-based approach and a problem-based approach is evident when we understand the point of focus in these respective approaches.

A solution based approach is positive, and one focuses on solutions rather than on problems. A mind focused on problems based approach to problem-solving allows one to think about the problem first. Contrary to the solution-based approach it makes one feel powerless and helpless, whereas A solution-based approach makes one feel empowered.

A problem-based approach requires one to investigate the issues related to the problem, its origins, its causes, and requires one to find out methods and solutions by tackling or addressing the causes and origins of a problem. A solution-based approach doesn’t ignore the problem but addresses it by focusing on finding out the exceptions to the problem by identifying, constructing, and taking multiple points of view.

Design Thinking is a solution-based approach that is focused more on humans and involves humans in every part of the process for feedback and enhancement to the generated solutions.

What is the purpose of Design Thinking?

Design thinking fosters the participation of users who require a solution. It encourages innovation and creativity by considering alternative approaches to solve a given problem.

The purpose is to find the best solution that emphasizes the users and is readily acceptable by them for the users to immediately connect with a given solution.

Design thinking is an approach which neither centers on emotions and intuitions nor does it solely depend on analytics, science, and rationale; It is a mix of both and presents a sort of middle path to problem-solving.

What is the Design Thinking Process?

The edifice of the Design thinking process rests on four strong principles and five essential phases. These principles and phases are quite important and help in problem-solving quite effectively because design thinking is a process for creative problem solving.

Design thinking is less of a process and more of an interactive approach to problem-solving which results in empathetic solutions focusing on the requirements and needs of the users facing the problem.

Below are the 5 steps in design thinking process along with the 4 princinples.

Four principles of Design Thinking

Four principles are noted down as rules in Design thinking and cannot be ignored while discovering the best solutions for the users.

1. The human rule - All Design is social in nature.

2. The ambiguity rule - Ambiguity is inevitable.

3. The re-design rule - All design is re-design

4. The tangibility rule - Ideas need to be tangible.

Solutions created with these above-mentioned rules have a high probability of gaining acceptance from users. All designs require a human-centered approach without getting perturbed by the ambiguity that lies in almost all walks of life. Design thinking rests on an iterative approach by following the re-design rule and makes all design solutions tangible so that they can be implemented for immediate user feedback and necessary re-design.

Let us look at the five essential phases in a design thinking process. Five

Five Phases of Design Thinking

Five phases of design thinking
process

Image Courtesy: Batterii blog

According to the given design thinking process diagram, the design thinking process consists of below mentioned five phases. In these design thinking process steps, designers empathise, define, ideate, prototype, and test the probable solutions to a user problem.

1. Empathize

The process of design thinking starts with Empathy. This phase is the core of design thinking process.

In this phase, solution providers interact with the users of the product to understand their expectations, issues, problems, and pain points, etc. As this phase can be revisited based on the feedback from a later phase, the User’s interaction with a prototype or a product is studied too.

2. Define

Equipped with the knowledge gained in the previous phase, solution providers or designers define the problem in a more formal way. This is the second phase of the design thinking process.

Teams/Individuals come up with their point of view and mention the challenges and issues that will be addressed in the provided solution. The output of this phase is a clear and well-defined problem statement, which becomes the basis for the next phase of the design thinking process.

3. Ideate

This is the third phase of the design thinking process. In this phase, the solution group might deviate from the existing norms and can really get creative to think about the problem statement from many different points of view and perceptions.

Team members can use techniques such as brainstorming, analogies, bodystorming, brainwriting, gamestorming, mind mapping, reverse thinking, storyboarding, etc. to generate ideas and possible solutions to address and solve the problem as it was defined in the previous phase.

The output of this phase is the list of possible solution candidates that might be applicable to the problem statement.

4. Prototype

Prototyping is the fourth phase of the design thinking process. In this phase, teams come up with a scaled-down version of a product, called prototype. A prototype allows users to interact with a possible product and helps in collecting user feedback before full-scale product development.

The purpose of this phase is to convert ideas into something tangible and full-scale development, which can result in accomplishing the user requirements and customer delight. In this phase, teams can come up with one or more prototypes.

5. Test

This phase is the fifth phase of the design thinking process, and solution providers present all the prototypes in front of users. Users can interact with the prototypes as real products and can give feedback to the designers and developers by highlighting the design flaws that need to be addressed by the designing teams.

The results of this phase often require the team members to revisit one of the earlier phases such as empathize, and ideation to come up with a new prototype that would finally be selected by the users. Once finalized, a prototype can then be selected for full-scale development.

Is Design Thinking a Linear Process?

As per the definition of design thinking process, the design thinking process is not a linear process.

It requires solution providers to keep iterating between phases with active feedback from users and stakeholders. The correct representation of the process would be similar to the one shown in the image below.

In the below-shown figure it is quite evident that Empathy leads to more accurate problem definition. Based on the definition of the problem, teams brainstorm and Ideate for many possible solutions.

Design thinking process is non
linear

Then designers immediately come up with prototypes and seek user acceptance and feedback for making necessary changes or modifications and follow the same steps again until the best possible solution is discovered.

Testing a prototype can result in learning more about the users and hence can lead to improved problem definition and a new refined prototype.

Five obvious benefits of the Design Thinking process for Business?

Due to the nonlinear, iterative, and flexible nature of the design thinking process, It is possible to integrate design thinking into existing processes in any business. In a design led thinking process, businesses reap many benefits. Some of those benefits are given below.

1. Reduced time to Market - It is due to its emphasis on solution finding and users that teams spend lesser time in the development of a solution. Time less spent on design and development result in quality feedback in the testing phase.

2. Cost saving and a great ROI - A faster product into the market saves a lot of costs and results in a better ROI. Some teams have reported almost up to 300% ROI after implementing Design thinking to solve user problems.

3. Improves Customer retention and loyalty - Customers are involved right from the beginning, and because of great emphasis on human design thinking results in customer intimacy and customer delight because the final product is very close to the customer expectations. Due to customer involvement and happiness, design thinking results in higher improved customer retention and loyalty.

4. Fosters Innovation - An environment full of cross-functional interactions and collaboration fosters innovation and keeps employees happy as they learn more and remain creative. Innovations keep employees engaged more in their work and stay productive.

5. Can be applied company-wide - Opposed to some views, Design thinking is not limited to any one area or discipline. It can be applied company-wide within existing teams or into the life of one individual.

The above points on benefits are multiplied in effect with Design thinking is used with other prevalent processes such as Agile and Lean. Read on to know more about it below.

To learn more Download a design thinking process book and take the road of non stop innovation in your company.

Conclusion

Design thinking challenges the existing assumptions and redefines a problem in order to find solutions by keeping humans at the center of the designed solution.

Design thinking works well with other highly productive methods such as Agile and Lean to bring further value to the users and businesses. We will explain design thinking more in our upcoming posts.