What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a solution-based approach to innovation. It involves observing consumers to gain insight into their needs and then providing solutions to those needs.

For example, if you are designing a new walker, you would observe walkers with empathy and ask open-ended questions to identify pain points that they may not even be aware of.

Problem Definition

According to Enterprise Agility Consulting, the first step in design thinking is to define the problem. This is done by empathizing with the end user and identifying their real needs. This is often done through a series of interviews, but it can also be achieved by observing the user in their natural environment.

After collecting and analyzing all the information gained during the empathize phase, it is time to begin the process of narrowing down the findings into a specific problem statement. This is also known as establishing a point of view (POV), and it is the foundation that will guide all future design steps, especially ideation and prototyping.

Observing without bias is an important part of this process, and it can help uncover hidden needs that would otherwise go unnoticed. For example, at the Kingwood Trust, a UK charity that helps adults with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, a designer named Katie Gaudion observed Pete, an adult with autism, who engaged in repetitive behaviors in his home. These included picking at the leather sofa and rubbing indentations into walls.

Rather than simply assuming that these actions were a sign of distress or discomfort, she began to look for opportunities in them. This led her to identify an alternative goal for Pete: to repurpose his furniture. This became the basis for an idea that was ultimately a winning solution for all involved.


Observing without assumptions or biased expectations is an essential element of design thinking. It’s a process that encourages immersion in experiences, gathers data, and transforms those observations into insights. These insights can help teams identify potential solutions and remove roadblocks that prevented them from coming up with the right solution in the past.

The empathize stage of the design thinking process focuses on understanding your audience’s perspective of their problem. This requires observing and interviewing people to clearly understand their problems, needs, pain points, and expectations. It also involves analyzing qualitative and quantitative data, which can be difficult to make sense of. Being playful with this step is important — to let your creativity run wild. This ambiguity is what allows you to discover unexpected and innovative solutions.

The next step is ideation, which consists of brainstorming ideas about how to solve the problem you’ve empathized with. This can be tricky because it’s important to avoid shooting down impractical ideas at the beginning. You don’t want to shoot down any ideas that will not work because they might just be the key to solving your problem. Taking an iterative approach to ideation is also key to design thinking. Creating rough prototypes early and testing them with users is an effective way to generate new ideas, test them, and learn from the results. Eventually, these prototypes will evolve into the final product or service.


In the ideation phase of design thinking, teams are encouraged to generate a large number of ideas and not limit themselves. They should also encourage wild ideas, even those that seem to be illogical or outlandish. This brainstorming approach helps foster creativity, stimulate team collaboration, and unlock innovation potential.

Design thinking is about more than just brainstorming. It involves a process grounded in human-centered research, and it requires putting yourself in the end user’s shoes. This is important because it forces you to think about the problems your customers or users face in a new way and find solutions that are uniquely suited to their needs.

Another crucial part of this process is generating empathy with the audience. This means observing without bias, avoiding questions that close off iterative improvement, and truly understanding your audience’s perspective. This empathy helps you develop a more informed point of view about the challenge at hand, which will be instrumental in finding a solution.

Once you’ve gathered all the information from your customer interviews, it’s time to begin shaping your insights. The goal is to develop a clear challenge statement summarizing all the knowledge you’ve gained from your observations and defining human needs. This will serve as the foundation for the solutions you’ll come up with in the next step of the process.


Once teams have narrowed their ideas from the empathize phase, they can begin prototyping them. This step helps them develop a more concrete product that can be tested with real users. In addition, it can help reduce production costs by eliminating costly mistakes that would be expensive to correct later in the process. Prototypes can be anything from a simple sketch or storyboard to a full-fledged prototype that enacts a service offering.

During this phase, team members should brainstorm as many solutions to the problem as they can think of. They should also avoid using judgments to filter their ideas. In this way, they can unleash their creativity without worrying about being judged or limited by a lack of resources.

While this approach might seem counterintuitive to a traditional business, it is necessary for innovation. Design thinking allows teams to see unmet needs in a new light and overcome the human tendencies that get in the way of innovation. By reducing the risks and costs of change, it can create breakthrough products and services that deliver on organizational goals. It can also increase employee buy-in and help teams collaborate better. By giving teams a clear and simple set of tools to follow, design thinking can help break free of the barriers that often prevent companies from reaching their full potential.


Observing and engaging with consumers is critical to design thinking. It is a step in the process that helps paint a clear picture of the people who need to be served, and it exposes situations where individuals or teams have misframed problems, invalidating their favored solutions.

This step also helps identify unmet needs that may be missed by teams focusing solely on their proposed solution’s product features and benefits. Incorporating these insights into the design criteria makes it possible to innovate new solutions starting with quick and low-fidelity experiments that provide learning opportunities before moving on to higher-fidelity prototypes.

The testing phase allows a group of users to interact with and experience a prototype without any guided questions from the team. During this phase, it’s important to remain open to negative feedback. It can highlight unforeseen issues with a prototype that may provide valuable insight into the user’s experience and, ultimately, help you improve your final design.

Many teams struggle with the idea of innovation, fearing that the target audience will reject their ideas. This is why the structure of design thinking provides a sense of safety for teams to take risks, explore possibilities, and create solutions that solve real-world problems. It’s a proven methodology that offers a framework for strategic innovation rather than trial and error that can be time-consuming, expensive, and ultimately ineffective.


Design thinking is a powerful tool that can help organizations solve their most complex problems. It helps teams move past creative brainstorming into a process of generating, refining, and testing ideas, all while keeping the user front and center throughout. The process also helps teams collaborate better and reduces the risk associated with launching new products, services, or solutions.

The first step of design thinking is observing with empathy, which requires understanding the users’ beliefs, values, and needs. This allows the team to uncover insights that could not have been discovered without a more human-centered approach.

Immersion in the user experience provides a wealth of qualitative data, but sorting through all this information to find patterns and draw conclusions is messy and time-consuming. The structured, logical steps of design thinking provide clarity and structure to the discovery phase and make it easier to understand real user needs and challenges.

The steps in the design thinking process encourage people to think more critically about their products, services, or projects and provide a framework for identifying new ways to solve existing challenges. This enables them to identify and develop revolutionary innovations that address unmet needs. It also helps them avoid settling for incremental improvements that are difficult to differentiate from the competition. It also gives them the confidence to push past their limitations by reducing the fear of failure.

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