Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and GE, have rapidly adopted the Design Thinking approach, and Design Thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including d.school, Stanford, Harvard, and MIT. But do you know what Design Thinking is? And why it’s so popular? Here, we’ll cut to the chase and tell you what it is and why it’s so in demand.
Design thinking is both an ideology and a process, concerned with solving complex problems in a highly user-centric way. In this guide, we’ll give you a detailed definition of design thinking, illustrate exactly what the process involves, and underline why it matters. So without further due let’s get started!
What is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is an approach used for practical and creative problem-solving. It is based heavily on the methods and processes that designer use (hence the name), but it has involved a range of different fields – including architecture, engineering, and business. Design thinking can also be applied to any field, it doesn’t necessarily have to be design-specific.
It is important to note that Design Thinking is different from User-Centered Design. Design thinking is extremely user-centric, it focuses on humans first and foremost, seeking to understand people’s needs and come up with effective solutions to meet those needs. It is what we call a solution-based approach to problem-solving.
What is the Design Thinking process?
As already mentioned, the Design Thinking process is progressive and highly user-centric. Before looking at the process in more detail, let’s consider the four principles of Design Thinking.
The Four Principle of Design Thinking
- The Human Rule: No matter what the context, all the design activity is social, and any social innovation will bring us back to the “Human Centric Point of View“.
- The Ambiguity Rule: Ambiguity is inevitable, and it cannot be removed or oversimplified. Experimenting at the limits of your knowledge and ability is crucial in being able to see things differently.
- The reDesign Rule: All design is redesigned. While technology and social circumstances may change and evolve, basic human needs remain unchanged. We essentially only redesign the means of fulfilling these needs or reaching desired outcomes.
- The Tangibility Rule: Making ideas tangible in the form of prototypes enables designers to communicate them more effectively.
The Five Phases of Design Thinking
Based on these principles, the Design Thinking process can be broken down into five steps or phases, as per the aforementioned Hasso-Plattner-Institute of Design at Standford (otherwise known as D-School): Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.
Phase 1: Empathise: Empathy is crucial to a human-centered design process. It allows you to gain real insight into users’ needs. Empathy provides the critical starting point for Design thinking. The first stage of the process is spent getting to know the user and understanding their wants, needs, and objectives. This means observing and engaging with people to understand them on a psychological and emotional level.
Phase 2: Define: The second stage in the Design Thinking Process is dedicated to defining the problem. You’ll gather all of your findings from the empathize phase and start to make sense of them: What difficulties and barriers are your users coming up against? What patterns do you observe? what are the big user problems that your team needs to solve? By the end of this phase, you will have a clear problem statement.
Phase3: Ideate: With a solid understanding of your users and a clear problem statement in mind, it’s time to start working on potential solutions. The third phase in the Design Thinking process is where creativity happens, and it’s crucial to point out that the ideation stage is a judgment-free zone! The designer will hold an ideation session to come up with as many new angles and ideas as possible. There are many different types of ideation techniques that designers might use, from brainstorming and mind-mapping to bodystorming (roleplay scenarios) and an extreme lateral thinking technique that gets the designer to challenge established beliefs and explore new options and alternatives.
Phase4: Prototype: The fourth step in the design thinking process is all about experimentation and turning ideas into tangible products. A prototype is basically a scaled-down version of the product that incorporates the potential solution identified in the previous stages. This step is key in putting each solution to the test and highlighting any constraints and flaws. Throughout the prototype stage, the proposed solution may be accepted, improved, redesigned, or rejected depending on how they fare in prototype form.
Phase5: Test: After prototyping comes user testing, but it’s important to note that this is rarely the end of the Design Thinking process. In reality of the testing phase will often lead you back to a previous step, providing the insight you need to redefine the original problem statement or to come up with new ideas you hadn’t thought of before.
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