Design thinking has become a popular framework used in numerous fields, namely engineering, marketing, art and many more. These industries use design thinking as a way to approach problems and challenges like designers and create continuous innovations.
For this reason, as art and design school, we believe designers should be the most adept at using design thinking to produce creative solutions. Knowing how design thinking works empowers them to craft concepts and visuals that effectively speak to the audience.
As an aspiring or beginner designer, a solid understanding of design thinking will help you thrive in the field. Not only can you express your ideas, but you will also be able to create visualisations that solve user needs and problems, making your design useful.
Now you may be wondering, where do you start learning about this concept?
You can start by reading this article, where we’ll talk about everything about design thinking, including its definition, principles, implementations, and many more.
Keep on reading and gain valuable insights to support your creativity on the right basis!
What is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is a creative problem-solving approach that focuses on a human-centred perspective. This mindset puts users above everything else to create innovative solutions that directly address their problems and needs.
Designers use design thinking to create intuitive layouts that go beyond enticing shape, colour, and text combinations. With this mindset, designers focus on how the visual speaks to the audience and helps them in solving their problems.
For instance, before creating a layout, a user interface designer must first identify the user’s needs and problems through the design thinking process. Through understanding the needs of the end user, designers are able to design interfaces that are easy to use and meet all the needs of the user.
Why is Design Thinking an Important Process?
Design thinking is an important process that designers have to incorporate into their workflows. Usability is everything in design, hence designers can’t rely solely on their own taste or preferences, which can come across as self-centred and often results in lousy final results.
They can improve their results by including design thinking in the process, which will help them in doing the following moves:
Challenging Initial Assumptions
As human beings, it’s natural for designers to have their assumptions. You may also have these hypotheses in mind that avoid you from learning everything from scratch. However, you can’t say that your guesses are always right before testing them out.
Design thinking allows you to question your assumptions and forces you to start from scratch. This is because the way you see your design doesn’t always align with how the audience perceives it.
After you’ve tested your assumptions, you can determine how your design is perceived by your intendedusers. Seeing your design through the eyes of your audience allows you to capture reality and create designs that address their needs and problems.
Opening Up New Ideas
Designers who implement design thinking into their workflows no longer think in terms of the dominant or more common problem-solving method. They’ll delve deeper into the problems, opening up new ideas to meet the needs of users.
Furthermore, focusing on user needs allows designers to investigate areas for improvement that they might otherwise overlook. As a result, they will be less hesitant to make the necessary changes to accommodate evolving user problems.
Solving Ill-Defined or Unknown Problems
Some user problems may be ill-defined or unknown, especially if designers are aiming to create niche designs for new products. Fortunately, identifying the subjective nature of user problems should no longer be an issue with design thinking implementation.
By embracing a human-centred approach, designers can foresee user behaviours, even if those behaviours are unknown at the time. They can investigate how users will interact with their design and generate as many solutive outputs as possible.
What are The 5 Steps of Design Thinking?
Design thinking entails five key steps, namely empathise, define, ideation, prototype, and test. These stages correlate with one another, and designers have to structure them correctly to develop products or designs that perform well in addressing user problems.
In addition, it’s essential to note that these stages are non-linear, meaning that designers may have to revisit previous stages to finally come up with the right solutions. Let’s take a look at how the stages work, as we explain below:
Empathising with the client and end users is the initial stage that designers must carry out. Being empathetic allows designers to step into their user’s shoes and see their products from the user’s perspective.
Additionally, what designers discover during this stage has an impact on the success of the subsequent stages. As a result, they must carry it out correctly by taking into account the following factors:
Understand the client’s requirements
Designers typically work for clients who require their expertise to create a product that meets the needs and problems of the client’s users. For this reason, designers must understand the client’s needs to deliver products that effectively capture the attention of the target audience.
Clients will usually provide the details of their target users, consisting of age, occupation and problems that their product solves. It will be the designer’s responsibility to work on the product or design based on this information.
Find a solution to their problem
After studying the target user details, the next step is to construct a solution to their problem. Constructing the right solution starts by questioning what users need as well as their expectations, allowing them to come up with the best solution possible.
Aside from finding the best solution, designers also consider solutions that users may have tried but didn’t work. Identifying unsuitable solutions avoids designers from implementing them into their strategies.
Ask the right questions
Empathy comes from asking the right questions regarding how users may perceive the products or designs. There are a few questions that designers can elaborate on their workflow, including:
- Do users feel comfortable while interacting with the product or design?
- Does the user interface look visually appealing to users?
- What are the challenges users face when interacting with the product or design?
- Does the design evoke negative emotions in users when they interact with it?
Overall, by asking these questions, designers open themselves up to complaints from users. In turn, they can create products or designs that satisfy users and make their lives easier.
During this stage, designers will compile all of the information gathered from the empathy research. They will delve deeper into the data and pinpoint the issues in greater detail. Two points define stage highlights, including:
- What issues and bottlenecks are users encountering?
- What is the primary user issue that must be addressed?
Finding answers to those two questions is important as it impacts how the final product or design serves the users. Aside from that, it also helps designers and their teams to identify useful techniques that solve the challenges with the least difficulty.
All in all, the define stage helps designers to build a clear and creative idea in a human-centred manner. As a result, there will be fewer obstacles that users may encounter while interacting with the product or design.
The ideation phase focuses on creativity and idea-making. Designers collaborate with their teams at this stage to generate as many ideas as possible, yielding opportunities for new ideas. They usually do this through a brainstorming session in which they take notes of all of their ideas.
Designers only aim to generate large numbers of ideas during this stage, rather than evaluate and refine them. These ideas are useful as potential solutions to the problems at hand, which can be refined or evaluated later in the design process.
Finally, designers can come up with strong ideas for users using the ideas they generate through brainstorming and other creative processes. The solutions will also have an emotional impact and make users’ lives easier.
The prototyping phase is the process of creating a low-fidelity or rough representation of a solution to a problem. Designers can use physical or digital prototypes (such as Figma) to explore and test the functionality, usability, and design of their products.
This stage serves as early testing and feedback, which designers can use to experiment and identify the errors found in the product design. This allows them to make informed decisions on the design improvement that streamlines the project direction.
Recognising and modifying the product or design errors allow designers to create a final output that is best suited to user needs and problems. All of this is only possible by carrying out the prototype phase correctly and being open to feedback.
The test stage gives an emphasis on user feedback based on the previously made prototype. Following the creation of a prototype, a designer will present it to the users and gather their feedback.
Gathering user feedback during the testing phase can be done through various methods, such as user research, surveys, usability tests, and A/B testing. The goal of this phase is to identify what works and what doesn’t.
Identifying what works and what doesn’t helps designers to make necessary improvements. They may do this by redefining the original problem statement or offering new ideas as fresh solutions to add to the prototype.
In addition, it isn’t necessary for designers to only tweak the prototype. This stage often requires them to refine other stages throughout the design thinking process, which include empathising, defining, ideation and prototyping.
For example, a designer may need to keep an eye on the empathise phase and rework the faults. Following that, looking at the define phase allows them to better understand user requirements. In the ideation phase, they can then come up with new solutions. Finally, they can revamp their prototype to better suit target users.
Overall, the testing phase is an integral part of the design thinking process. It allows for continual improvement and refinement of the solution based on real-world feedback.
Design Thinking Implementations
Design thinking is a problem-solving framework implemented to lead businesses toward innovation. This is particularly prevalent in the varying design jobs, such as user experience, user interface, game, product and landscape designs.
Now let’s take a look at how design thinking applies to these design jobs, as explained in the following:
User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design go hand in hand to create visually appealing and intuitive digital products like apps and websites. UI/UX designers have to implement design thinking into their workflows to achieve this goal.
Starting with empathy, UI/UX designers focus on the needs and problems that arise during the user’s journey. Besides, they also need to consider the brand, ensuring that the design is not only user-friendly but also reinforces the brand’s persona that appeals to the users.
UI/UX designers delve deeper into the problems as they progress to the defining stage. They provide more details about each problem discovered during the empathising stage. This allows them to figure out how to solve the user’s bottleneck with the least difficulty.
Moving on to the ideation phase, UI/UX designers brainstorm ideas to address the challenges faced by users at various stages of their journey. They typically use sticky notes to capture ideas and organise them based on the customer journey, either physically or digitally using Miro, Conceptboard or Ideaflip.
After compiling all the ideas, UI/UX designers proceed to develop low-fidelity prototypes, consisting of the visual and interaction structure. Low-fidelity prototypes serve to ensure that the design looks appealing and is also easy to use.
The final step for UI/UX designers is to test their prototypes. Some of the methods they use to gather user feedback are A/B testing, surveys and usability testing. If they discover issues from the user feedback, they may need to repeat the design thinking process until they come up with the ideal design.
Game design entails constructing the mechanics, systems and rules of a game. It needs an enticing visualisation, character development and storyboard that support the whole gaming experience.
Game designers need a solid understanding of design thinking to create enjoyable games for their target audience. It begins with their willingness to understand their target audience, including their needs and problems while interacting with the gameplay.
Following the listing of user needs and problems, game designers move on to elaborating them in greater detail, also known as the defining stage. This stage enables game designers to foresee issues that users may encounter with the final design.
Having detailed information about user needs and problems helps game designers brainstorm solutions. They will usually collaborate with their teams, including script writers, animators, and programmers, to generate comprehensive ideas for improving gameplay.
The game designers will then create the game prototypes, which will include all of the ideas gathered during the ideation stage. Unreal Engine and Unity are two of the most popular prototyping tools for game designers to use before releasing their products.
Creating prototypes is insufficient without testing them out. Internal testing and user testing are some of the techniques used to test prototypes and gain valuable feedback. From there, game designers can identify which areas to improve.
Product design entails imagining, creating, and iterating products that address specific user needs and problems in a particular market. To successfully develop a product, product designers must first understand the end-user, which is possible with design thinking.
Maximising product development through design thinking begins with empathy for the end user or the person to whom the design is intended. Product designers will identify user problems and needs that correlate with the product.
Product designers can better understand user problems and needs throughout the user journey by putting themselves in their shoes. They will go into more detail about those in the defining stage, which will also determine the main issues that need to be solved.
After identifying the user issues and emotions, product designers will be able to express their ideas in the means to solve obstacles and reduce negative emotions. They share as many ideas as possible and then sort them out based on the user’s journey steps.
Product designers can proceed to develop a prototype with organised ideas. This prototype allows them to see how their ideas will look in their final product before releasing it to the public.
Finally, product designers must put the prototype through user testing. The goal of this phase is to collect user feedback on how they feel about the product. Product designers can later improve their prototypes to increase user satisfaction.
Packaging design entails creating a visualisation, consisting of typography, colour and shape to make the product marketable. Marketable packaging should stand out from competitors and appeal to both in-store and online customers.
It all begins with empathising with potential customers. Designers with empathy can identify customers’ needs and implement them to the output that highlights the product’s quality. This is important so that people who need the product will be enticed to buy it.
Moving on to the defining stage, packaging designers will determine what problems people may have with the product design. This enables them to avoid bringing these issues into the final designs.
They will then work with their teams to generate ideas for the final designs. At this stage, they concentrate on brainstorming as many ideas as possible to address various customer problems and needs.
These ideas will then be tested during the prototyping phase. Packaging designers will create low-fidelity prototypes during this phase to test how their ideas and assumptions will look.
Packaging designers must test prototypes before releasing them to customers. They may do it through internal testing, A/B testing or customer testing. The feedback they receive from the testing phase allows them to acknowledge which areas to improve.
Finally, as they revise their final design in response to customer feedback, they can create a more suitable design. This enables them to boost product sales and make the brand thrive in the market.
What are the Tangible Benefits of Design Thinking for Designers?
Design thinking, which is a framework that focuses on delivering solutions to problems and needs that arise throughout the buyer’s journey, is the basis of almost any design process. For this reason, designers must acquire this sought-after skill that provides them with the following tangible benefits:
Get Hired Faster
Design thinking is a creative approach to problem-solving that emphasises empathy with the users, experimentation, and product iteration. Companies can foster innovation and develop products that better suit the needs of their customers by implementing this framework.
Thus, many companies are now seeking candidates with design thinking skills and incorporating this ability into their job requirements. You can seize this opportunity to hone your design thinking skills.
You can increase your marketability and stand out from other applicants by honing your design thinking skills. In turn, you can accelerate yourself in getting hired by your dream company and foster your career growth.
Overcome Cognitive Fixedness
Cognitive fixedness is a state of mind that assumes there’s only a single way to approach a situation. This mindset hinders designers from exploring other possibilities to deal with a condition.
Design thinking, alternately, challenges their assumptions and encourages them to look out to other varying perspectives. For instance, a designer can ask, ‘What other ways can this problem be solved besides the usual method?’ to open themselves up to new approaches.
Overcoming cognitive fixedness becomes easier with practice. And you can do it by incorporating design thinking into your workflow, which will familiarise you with thinking outside the box and help you in any problem-solving situation.
Drive Higher Revenues and User Loyalty
Design thinking provides designers with the ability to create product innovations with the primary goal of adding value to the lives of users. The higher the number of users, the higher the company’s revenues will be.
In addition, this user-centric framework can increase customer satisfaction. Customers who feel satisfied with the product designs are more likely to be loyal and repeat purchases. As a result, companies can save their budget on acquiring new users.
Overall, increased revenue and user loyalty will benefit your employer’s performance over time. When they are pleased with the results you deliver, you will be able to advance in your career.
Lead Team Toward Innovation
An in-depth understanding of design thinking, combined with strong leadership skills, helps you in leading your team toward innovation. You can empower your team to hold each step of the process accountable, collaborate by sharing different points of view, and track tangible results.
Being able to introduce new insights into your organisation increases your value as a designer. It demonstrates that you are a valuable asset, allowing you to advance in your career.
Save Time and Effort
Design thinking simplifies the process of innovation, making daily operations more purposeful and efficient. Designers can save time and effort by using this framework instead of relying on a trial-and-error strategy.
As part of product testing and iterations, this framework accounts for expected failures and errors. It allows designers to make actionable corrections in the following steps, ultimately saving them energy from having to start from scratch.
Design Thinking Challenge: Assuming That The Framework is Linear
The design thinking process is often misunderstood by novice designers as being linear. This innovative framework which includes the stages of empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing, is non-linear. At any point in the process, designers may need to revisit and reevaluate previous stages.
Their ability to reevaluate the previous stage and make necessary changes makes the design they create to be solutive. This is because they will rethink other ways to turn what doesn’t work into work. Ultimately, users can have smoother experiences while engaging with the product.
Effective design thinking can be done by arranging the five key stages parallelly. This allows designers to keep track of every detail for the target audience. Evaluating the whole process and circling back to previous stages any time they need will also be easier this way.
As a result, designers can dynamically collaborate with their teams and open themselves up to developing innovative ideas. Focusing their ideas on a human-centric lens, regardless of the stage they are created for, has a significant impact on how the final design looks.
How to Master Design Thinking
Now that you realise how important it is to have design thinking and implement it into your workflow, you may wonder how you can start learning about it. Two common methods give you a further comprehension of this framework, as listed below:
The first approach to understanding design thinking is self-learning. Some of the practices you may want to try watching YouTube videos, reading related books, and creating your own product.
Despite being the most accessible method for understanding design thinking, self-learning may take a long time until you fully comprehend the framework. This is because self-learning requires your willingness to actively seek out materials and teach yourself.
Aside from that, it can be more difficult for you to validate your knowledge, especially if you are a new designer. Self-learning implies that you are on your own and must figure out your weaknesses, which can be difficult without the presence of external guidance.
However, if you have mastered the fundamentals of design thinking, self-learning may be an appropriate method. This method is best suited for honing the framework so that you get more familiar with it and are ready to produce innovative solutions at all times.
Enrolling in design courses is another option for honing your design thinking. Joining the classes allows you to gain a better understanding of this framework as you’ll be guided by expert practitioners.
Attending a design course also makes it easier to apply your knowledge to real-world projects. Typically, you will be given project assignments that you must complete with your team.
The instructors will then evaluate the project assignment and discuss it with the class. They can provide constructive feedback to help you improve your product. This way, you won’t have to figure out the mistakes on your own and can focus on honing your skills.
Most notably, enrolling in design courses allows you to learn together with other people who share your passion. Learning design thinking, which can be tedious if done alone, will become a more enjoyable experience.
Before coming to a closure, let’s recall what we’ve learned in this article.
First, design thinking is an innovative framework that streamlines the design-making process. It consists of empathy, definition, ideation, prototype and testing stages. These stages are non-linear. Designers may have to repeat the previous stage at any point in the process.
Second, design thinking is applicable in varying design jobs, such as UI/UX, game and product design. The implementation of this framework allows designers to come up with the right solutions that address the needs and problems of the target audience.
Third, this creative problem-solving approach brings tangible benefits to designers. They can overcome cognitive fixedness, drive higher revenue and user loyalty, lead teams towards innovation, and save their efforts in product development.
Overall. with design thinking, designers can question their assumptions and explore new ideas to better understand the target users for whom they create designs. They won’t be stuck on their own biases and be able to foresee how users perceive the designs.
What are the key steps in the design thinking process?
The key steps in design thinking consist of empathising with users, defining the problems, ideating the solutions, prototyping the design, and testing the design to users to gain feedback.
These key steps are non-linear, meaning that designers may need to revisit the previous stage and make the necessary changes. In turn, the final product will better suit user needs and problems.
How is design thinking different from traditional problem-solving approaches?
In contrast to traditional problem-solving approaches, design thinking emphasises a human-centred perspective. It entails a strong understanding of the users whom designers are designing for, resulting in a product that makes the user’s life easier.
On the other hand, traditional problem-solving approaches often only focus on finding the most technically feasible solution to a problem. These strategies overlook the human perspective, failing to address obstacles that users may encounter.
Want to Excel in Design Thinking?
Being an expert in design thinking is now easier than ever with the guidance of design experts. At Orita Sinclair, we strive to provide holistic education that leads our students to be skilful designers or other creative practitioners.
We build our curriculum by focusing on what truly matters for you to hone your skills. This allows you to remain on track in learning design theories and prepare yourself to work on real-life design projects.
You can choose between focusing on graphic design and a mix of traditional and digital media in our Communication Design degree pathway or choose to focus on digital interfaces in our interaction design diploma. Design thinking skills are a core skill that is developed in both these courses and you will have ample opportunity to apply them as you build up an industry oriented portfolio.