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What is Design Thinking?

education skills Jul 26, 2021
Woman holding picture of lightbulb with designs on wall

Design Thinking is an approach to problem solving that is used by designers and professionals in many industries. Why is this Design Thinking becoming so popular in the workplace? By using Design Thinking, companies have found that they can increase productivity and product quality. Design Thinking is not just for designers. Thinking by design is a method that can be used to solve problems across many fields. Of course, this includes UX designers. Design Thinking is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal.

The Guac is here to explain what Design Thinking is and how you can use it to give your designs an edge. Grab some chips and let's dig in!

What exactly is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a creative, solution-based approach to problem-solving. Thinking by design focuses on humans first. When you sit down to create a design you should ask yourself, what’s the human need behind the problem I am trying to solve? This user-centric process attempts to find solutions to meet user needs. To find suitable solutions, designers use Design Thinking to get a good understanding of the user.

While problem-based thinking focuses on limitations and obstacles, solution-based thinking allows you to productively solve a problem with outside-the-box thinking. Thinking outside the box can be challenging because humans naturally follow patterns of thinking that are based on their experience and knowledge. 

This is why incorporating Design Thinking into your design work is so important. Asking new questions, and challenging assumptions lie at the heart of thinking by design. 

Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. At the same time, Design Thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods.

The Design Thinking Process

There are many different variations of the Design Thinking process, but all of these variations are similar in their user-centric, solution-based approach. In this design process, the goal is to develop an understanding of the user, redefine the problem, challenge assumptions, create solutions, and finally, test those solutions. 

We are going to break down the 5 stages of thinking by design. We have numbered them below but it is important to note that there isn’t necessarily a hierarchy to these stages. They do not have to happen in a certain order and sometimes multiple stages occur at the same time.

1. Empathize

During this phase, the goal is to collect insights about the user by engaging with them and getting to know their needs, goals, and motivations. You will learn to feel on the same emotional and psychological level. This means that designers must put aside their assumptions to truly empathize with the user.

Designers empathize with the user by conducting surveys, focus groups, and personal interviews. In this way, the designer can collect real user insights.

2.  Define

During this phase, the designer seeks to clearly articulate the problem they are trying to solve. In order to do this, you also need to define the insights you observed from the user. You need to make sense of the data collected and define the user's needs. Once you have articulated the user’s needs you can clearly identify the problem the user needs to be solved.

By the end of this phase, designers should have a clear problem statement that they can use to help them along in the other stages of Design Thinking.

3. Ideate 

Now that you have identified the problem, you can start to find solutions. During the ideation phase, designers brainstorm ideas for innovative solutions. It's creativity time! This is the time to challenge preconceived assumptions and to think outside the box.

Designers that work on a team will typically come together during this phase to brainstorm as many new ideas as possible. Eventually, you will narrow down certain ideas to focus on and move forward within the design process. Of course, sometimes designers will need to come back to this stage if a design does not solve the problem effectively. Design Thinking is flexible and adaptive to the design’s progression. 

4. Prototype

Designers generate solutions during the prototype phase. A prototype is a representation of the final product that allows UX designers to interact with their designs. The prototype should include the possible solutions that were brainstormed in the ideation phase. The goal of this stage is to test each solution and identify any flaws or constraints in solving the problem.

Prototypes are great for user testing and can help identify what elements resonate with users as the design evolves. The design team can accept the solution that the prototype presents, in which case, it has been deemed successful in solving the user problem. On the other hand, the design team can completely reject the prototype or revise it to find a better solution.

5. Test

After the prototype has been made, it is now time to test it on users. Keep in mind that testing is not always the end of the Design Thinking process. Usually, the prototype will be shared and tested with users and that feedback will be used to go back and refine previous stages. Designers often have to go back and redefine the problem and generate new ideas, then build another prototype to test those ideas.

Design Thinking is not a linear process. It is fluid and flexible and promotes an iterative way of working. Designers discover new things at every stage that can cause them to have to go back to a previous stage and rethink their designs.

Why is Design Thinking Important for UX Designers? 

Although UX designers typically have their own process, Design Thinking can be a very beneficial process for UX designers to implement. There are a lot of similarities between user experience design and Design Thinking. Understanding both of these processes means that your designs are empathetic and driven by the user. UX designers go through many of the same stages that come with thinking by design such as research, prototyping, and testing.

The main difference is that Design Thinking focuses on finding solutions to problems while UX design focuses on designing the solutions to create an intuitive and pleasant user experience.

Design Thinking is beneficial to many other fields beyond UX design. It can be applied to any team in any industry. Because of this, Design Thinking can help keep the business aspect of UX design in check. As a UX designer, it is easy to want to simply find the best solution for the user, but in reality, there will be certain constraints such as company budget and resources.

Design Thinking can help you get your designs to market quickly and cut costs. This process also improves customer loyalty because Design Thinking focuses on the user, which improves user engagement with the product. Customers will want to come back for more. 

Design Thinking is just another process that you can use as a UX designer to create the best interactions for users. With Design Thinking in your back pocket, you will be able to design more creatively and flexibly.

Ready to learn more about UX design? Schedule a free mentoring session with a UX designer today!


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