What is design thinking, and how do we apply it?

While dealing with complex problems that are poorly defined or unknown, design thinking comes to the rescue. By understanding the human needs involved, this design methodology provides a solution-based approach to problem-solving. Understanding the five stages of design thinking will enable anyone to apply these methods to solve complex problems, regardless of the issue’s scale, industry, or context.

Industries are actively adopting the human-centric approach to evolve existing products and generate new ideas to better serve their customers. Let’s look more closely at what design thinking is and how to apply it to your organization.

What is design thinking and why is it important?

Design thinking is an ideology as well as a process for solving complex problems in a user-centric manner. Its emphasis is on achieving practical outcomes and solutions that:

– Are technically feasible and can be developed into functional products or processes

– Are economically viable, the company can afford to develop them

– Meets a genuine human need, thereby making it desirable for the users

According to the design thinking ideology, to come up with innovative solutions, one must adopt a designer’s mindset and approach the problem from the user’s perspective. Simultaneously, design thinking is all about getting your hands dirty; the goal is to turn your ideas into tangible, testable products or processes as soon as possible.

Five actionable steps in the design thinking process

#1 Empathize

What? You will interact with and observe your target audience during the empathize phase.

Why? The goal of this step is to create a clear picture of who your end users are, the challenges they face, and the needs and expectations they have.

How? You will conduct surveys, interviews, and observation sessions to develop user empathy.

For instance, you want to address the issue of employee retention and ask each employee to complete an anonymous survey. You then conduct user interviews with as many employees as possible to learn how they feel about the organization. 

#2 Define

What? The next step is to define a clear problem statement based on what you learned during the empathize phase.

Why? Your problem statement identifies the specific issue you will address. It will guide the entire design process from this point forward, providing you with a fixed goal to focus on and assisting you in keeping the user in mind at all times.

How? While framing your problem statement, you will prioritize the needs of the user over the needs of the business. A good problem statement is human-centered, broad enough to accommodate creativity, while also providing guidance and direction.

For example, “My employees must be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle while working in the office”, is far more user-centric than “I must keep my employees healthy and happy to boost retention.”

#3 Ideate 

What? With a clear problem statement in mind, you should now try to generate as many ideas and potential solutions as possible.

Why? The ideation phase encourages you to think outside the box and investigate new possibilities. By focusing on quantity rather than the quality of ideas, you will be more likely to free your mind and stumble upon innovation!

How? During dedicated ideation sessions, you will employ a variety of ideation techniques such as bodystorming, reverse thinking, and the worst possible idea.

To illustrate – Based on what you discovered during the empathize phase, you hold several ideation sessions with various stakeholders. With your problem statement in hand, you brainstorm as many ideas as you can for how you can make your employees happier and retain them. 

#4 Prototype

What? After you’ve narrowed your ideas down to a few, you’ll create prototypes—or “scaled-down” versions of the product or concept you want to test.

Why? The prototyping stage provides you with something tangible that you can test on real users. This is critical to maintaining a user-centric approach.

How? Prototypes can range from simple paper models to interactive, digital prototypes, depending on what you’re testing. Have a clear goal in mind when creating your prototypes; know exactly what you want your prototype to represent and thus test.

Example – During the ideation phase, one suggestion was to provide free yoga classes. You set up a dedicated yoga room in the office, complete with mats, water bottles, and hand towels, to test this idea.

#5 Test

What? In the fifth step of the design thinking process, you will test your prototypes on real or representative users.

Why? During the testing phase, you can see where your prototype works well and where it needs to be improved. You can make changes and improvements based on user feedback before investing time and money in developing and/or implementing your solution.

How? You will conduct user testing sessions in which you will observe your target users interacting with your prototype. You can also solicit verbal feedback. You’ll make changes to your design or come up with an entirely new idea based on everything you learn during the testing phase!

For example, suppose you decide to put the yoga idea to the test for two months to see how employees react. People enjoy the yoga classes, but they are put off by the fact that they are in the middle of the day and there is no place to shower. You decide to move the yoga classes to the evening based on this feedback.

Success stories in design thinking

The most obvious contexts to benefit from design thinking are product and service design. However, the design thinking framework can be applied to a wide range of problems outside the realm of design!

Design thinking is increasingly being used in business to promote innovation and teamwork. IBM created the Enterprise Design Thinking framework to “help multidisciplinary teams align around the real needs of their users,” claiming that businesses that use the framework are twice as quick to market, 75 percent more efficient in terms of teamwork, and enjoy a 300 percent return on investment.

The insurance company MassMutual used design thinking to solve the problem of getting young adults to buy life insurance. Over two years, they conducted extensive user research in collaboration with IDEO. They then spent another two years prototyping and testing based on what they had learned. The result was the Society of Grownups, a set of digital tools designed to teach young people how to make wise financial decisions.

We hope that our blog has helped you understand the design thinking process. Contact us for a professional consultation on how to put a design thinking approach in action for your product idea to create a trending product.


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