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What is Design Thinking?

This article discusses what Design Thinking is, the Design Thinking process, and how to work through each stage for an end solution.
A Design Thinking Approach

Before we explain Design Thinking, let’s see what people have to say about it. Have a read through the following quotes from Curedale (2016):

Design Thinking is an approach to designing that supports innovation and intelligent change
Design Thinking is a human-centred approach which is driven by creative and analytical thinking, customer empathy, and iterative learning
It involves a tool kit of methods that can be applied to different problems by cross-disciplinary groups or by individuals
Anyone can use Design Thinking. It can be fun
Curedale, R. (2016). Design Thinking Process and Methods. (3rd Ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Design Community College. P 62

Each quote looks at Design Thinking from multiple points of view.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a process or a methodology which can be applied to any challenge – it is especially useful to business and social challenges that refuse to be solved (otherwise known as a “wicked” challenge).

Design Thinking is a process, with definite stages, and in each stage, there are tools that can help you to move forward with the challenge. Valuing multiple perspectives and lenses to the challenge is essential to moving toward a solution.

As the fourth quote also states: Design Thinking is open to anyone. It is creative, involves deep thinking or thinking that is just passing through so everyone has a chance to contribute.

The Design Thinking Process

There are many different types of Design Thinking processes but all have a similar structure. We start by defining the user and collecting the information and moving through the process to an end solution.

  • Empathy: This is an important first stage where we develop an understanding of our users. We place importance on gathering primary data to understand our user’s emotions and uncover their motivations. We also gather a wide range of secondary research to understand the context the challenge is in. This stage is known as a DIVERGENT stage as we are gathering data but we aren’t making sense of it yet.
  • Define: In this stage, we make sense of the data gathered in the Empathy stage. We require tools to help us translate primary and secondary data into the real needs of our users. In the define stage, we can clearly frame the original challenge into solvable parts. This stage is known as a CONVERGENT stage as we are converging our research into meaning.
  • Ideate: This stage is a creative stage where we use tools to help us brainstorm possible solutions to the action points created in the defined stage. We explore the solution space by creating many ideas – 10, 20, 50! This is known as a DIVERGENT stage. We then start to choose the best ideas against criteria defined earlier – so we start to CONVERGE.
  • Prototype: Here we build a representation of our best ideas to test. These prototypes can take many forms, with the early aim of creating fast prototypes to gather feedback as quickly as possible. This stage is CONVERGING.
  • User Test: This stage and the prototype stage tend to move in continuous cycles. User testing is gathering feedback from our end users and then we use this feedback to adapt or discontinue our prototyping.

This process may look linear, but in reality, we can dive backwards at any stage. After Define we may need to go back and test our main thoughts with the user group and so we empathise again, or our prototype may fail so we move back to Ideate (or further).

The important point is there is a process, and if you can tell where you are in the process then you will always know what you need to do next.

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