What is Design Thinking?


What is Design Thinking?

June 30, 2021


In 1908, Henry Ford released the Model T, the first affordable, easy to operate, vehicle the world has ever seen. The Model T is known for putting the world on wheels1. As a result, the quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” has been famously denoted to Henry Ford for his Model T invention. Similarly, Sir James Dyson proposed the idea of a bagless vacuum after frustrations with the clogging and variable costs of bags in 1978. In 1993, he released the DC01 and started the company “Dyson Ltd.” which follows the mission statement: Solve problems others seem to ignore.

So, what do Henry Ford and Sir James Dyson have in common? Well, both innovators put the user’s pain points at the forefront of their product development journey. This is the guiding principle that Design Thinkers follow and what makes design thinking such a successful methodology in the professional world.

What is design thinking?

Simply put, design thinking is the process of creating solutions to complex problems with the user’s needs, wants, and pain points at the forefront of every decision (also known as “user-centric design”). Originally, design thinking was a way for engineers to approach problems in a creative manner, but over time, design thinking has become a way of problem-solving in a variety of different industries, job functions, and practices.

As you can imagine, innovation is an ongoing process that never stops. Imagine if Henry Ford stopped at the Model T or James Dyson quit after the DC01 – Ford or Dyson would not be as memorable (or profitable) as they are today. While both individual inventions (the Model T and the DC01) solved a set of end user’s problems, there were more pain points created as a result. For example, customers wanted better suction from the DC01 and others wanted the Model T to go faster.

How design thinkers approach end-user pain points

There are two ways of speaking to these pain points. As an innovator, you can either:

A)  Take a reactive approach and wait for the complaints to identify what problems need to be solved; or

B)  Proactively empathize with the end-users to identify the pain points.

Option B is what design thinking aims to accomplish. By having a user-centric approach throughout the development cycle, every decision made will have the end user’s pain points in mind.

Five phases of design thinking

In order to identify and speak to these pain points, design thinking follows five phases to achieve the desired outcome:

1.   Empathize – conduct research to understand who your end users are.

2.   Define – clearly outline your end-users needs, goals, pain points, and takeaways from your research.

3.   Ideate – Challenge your predisposed hypotheses and begin coming up with innovative solutions that inherently speak to your end-users.

4.   Prototype – Begin developing functional solutions that create the desired look and feel your end users would want.

5.   Test – See whether your prototypes accurately speak to your end-users needs by testing them on potential target markets.

While most of these phases are similar to many other product development journeys, design thinking places a large emphasis on the empathize phase as the insights pulled from this phase become fundamental in the decision-making process. This is the root of innovation for design thinking. The Innovation Design Engineering Organization (More popularly known as IDEO) has established itself as thought leaders in the design thinking space by using end-user pain points to create new-to-world inventions that could not be done without design thinking. If you would like to see this process in action, have a look at “The Deep Dive” video below. The IDEO team was tasked with the challenge to completely redesign a shopping cart in just five days. This video accurately represents the thought that goes into design thinking.

Curious to see how design thinking can be applied in your workplace? Contact us today!



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