Both a process and a mindset, Design Thinking clearly defines problems and leads to innovative solutions—all while emphasizing the needs of the people being designed for. As Ideo puts it, “When you sit down to create a solution for a business need, the first question should always be what’s the human need behind it?” The concept of Design Thinking was first introduced around the mid-20th century, and became popularized for business in the early 1990s by David M. Kelley, founder of the respected consultancy mentioned above, Ideo.
The 5 phases of Design Thinking provide both structure and flexibility to the problem-solving process. Teams weave through the stages in a non-linear fashion, embracing a trial and error mentality while keeping the user’s experience its primary focus. Very much like Thomas Edison’s approach to invention, design thinking is about asking the right questions and exploring experimentation—believing each round (whether a failure or success) provides valuable insights. This iterative process reduces the pressure of one-and-done perfect solutions and the instinct to judge ideas too critically.
The five phases of Design Thinking are:
In this phase, the goal is to understand the people you are solving for. Take time to observe your users, engage with them personally, and experience the world through their lens.
After immersing yourself in your users’ world, define the problem you are trying to solve, emphasizing their needs. This problem statement will guide you through the creative ideation process and clarify goals.
Generate ideas that address your problem statement. Go wide and wild—don’t hinder ideas or creativity with judgment, but rather invite every possibility. Once everything has been considered, select a few of the most viable solutions to try out.
Prototypes are low-fidelity versions of your ideas. They bring a tangible element to your proposed solution that you can test out rapidly and cheaply. The goal is to quickly learn the idea’s potential without investing too much time or money into it.
Put your idea into the context of your users and learn from it. What’s working and not working? Take note of your findings and reiterate or move forward based on what you’ve learned.
When put to practice, design thinking has proved its ability to produce innovative, meaningful solutions to some of the world’s most complicated problems. From tackling global issues of food waste, curbing ventilation shortages during the covid crises, or eradicating uneccessary blindness in India, Design Thinking’s most valuable attribute is its ability to improve our world for the better. So, if you want to adopt Design Thinking into your practice, begin with an optimistic outlook on the world and its potential to be better than its currently is. From there, let Design Thinking guide you in helping to leave the planet better than how you found it.
Below are some additional resources in case you’d like to dig a little deeper into the process and methodology of design thinking.
Introduction to Design Thinking by SAP User Experience Community
5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process by Interaction Design Foundation
Perspectives, Practices, and Resources for Design Thinking by Ideo
Design Thinking Bootleg by Stanford d.school