Design Thinking

Your constantly-updated definition of Design Thinking and collection of topical content and literature

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test. Involving five phases—Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test—it is most useful to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown.

Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

In his 2009 TED talk, Design Thinking pioneer Tim Brown discusses Design Thinking’s value in solving extremely complex challenges.

Why Is Design Thinking so Important?

In user experience (UX) design, it’s crucial to develop and refine skills to understand and address rapid changes in users’ environments and behaviors. The world has become increasingly interconnected and complex since cognitive scientist and Nobel Prize laureate Herbert A. Simon first mentioned design thinking in his 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial, and then contributed many ideas to its principles. Professionals from a variety of fields, including architecture and engineering, subsequently advanced this highly creative process to address human needs in the modern age. Twenty-first-century organizations from a wide range of industries find design thinking a valuable means to problem-solve for the users of their products and services. Design teams use design thinking to tackle ill-defined/unknown problems (aka wicked problems) because they can reframe these in human-centric ways and focus on whats most important for users. Of all design processes, design thinking is almost certainly the best for “thinking outside the box”. With it, teams can do better UX research, prototyping and usability testing to uncover new ways to meet users’ needs.

Design thinking’s value as a world-improving, driving force in business (global heavyweights such as Google, Apple and Airbnb have wielded it to notable effect) matches its status as a popular subject at leading international universities. With design thinking, teams have the freedom to generate ground-breaking solutions. Using it, your team can get behind hard-to-access insights and apply a collection of hands-on methods to help find innovative answers.

The Five Stages of Design Thinking

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (aka the d.school) describes design thinking as a five-stage process. Note: These stages are not always sequential, and teams often run them in parallel, out of order and repeat them in an iterative fashion.

Author/Copyright holder: Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

  1. Stage 1: EmpathizeResearch Your Users' Needs
  2. Here, you should gain an empathetic understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, typically through user research. Empathy is crucial to a human-centered design process such as design thinking because it allows you to set aside your own assumptions about the world and gain real insight into users and their needs.

  3. Stage 2: Define—State Your Users' Needs and Problems
  4. It’s time to accumulate the information gathered during the Empathize stage. You then analyze your observations and synthesize them to define the core problems you and your team have identified. These definitions are called problem statements. You can create personas to help keep your efforts human-centered before proceeding to ideation.

  5. Stage 3: Ideate—Challenge Assumptions and Create Ideas
  6. Now, you’re ready to generate ideas. The solid background of knowledge from the first two phases means you can start to “think outside the box”, look for alternative ways to view the problem and identify innovative solutions to the problem statement you’ve created. Brainstorming is particularly useful here..

  7. Stage 4: Prototype—Start to Create Solutions
  8. This is an experimental phase. The aim is to identify the best possible solution for each problem found. Your team should produce some inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product (or specific features found within the product) to investigate the ideas you’ve generated. This could involve simply paper prototyping.

  9. Stage 5: Test—Try Your Solutions Out
  10. Evaluators rigorously test the prototypes. Although this is the final phase, design thinking is iterative: Teams often use the results to redefine one or more further problems. So, you can return to previous stages to make further iterations, alterations and refinements – to find or rule out alternative solutions.

Overall, you should understand that these stages are different modes which contribute to the entire design project, rather than sequential steps. Your goal throughout is to gain the deepest understanding of the users and what their ideal solution/product would be.

Learn More About Design Thinking

Design consultancy IDEO’s design kit is a great repository of Design Thinking tools and case studies: http://www.designkit.org/

To keep up with recent developments in Design Thinking, read Design Thinking pioneer Tim Brown’s blog: https://designthinking.ideo.com/

To learn how to engage in Design Thinking, check out our course “Design Thinking: The Ultimate Guide” – an excellent guide to get you started on your own Design Thinking projects: https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/design-thinking-the-ultimate-guide

Literature on Design Thinking

Here’s the entire UX literature on Design Thinking by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Design Thinking

Take a deep dive into Design Thinking with our course User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide .

User experience, or UX, has been a buzzword since about 2005, and according to tech research firm Gartner, the focus on digital experience is no longer limited to digital-born companies anymore. Chances are, you’ve heard of the term, or even have it on your portfolio. But, like most of us, there’s also a good chance that you sometimes feel unsure of what the term “user experience” actually covers.

[User experience] is used by people to say, Im a user experience designer, I design websites, or I design apps. [] and they think the experience is that simple device, the website, or the app, or who knows what. No! Its everythingits the way you experience the world, its the way you experience your life, its the way you experience the service. Or, yeah, an app or a computer system. But its a system thats everything.

Don Norman, pioneer and inventor of the term user experience”, in an interview with NNGroup

As indicated by Don Norman, User Experience is an umbrella term that covers a number of different areas. When you work with user experience, it’s crucial to have a good understanding of what those areas are so that you know what tools are available to you.

Throughout this course, you will gain a thorough understanding of the various design principles that come together to create a user’s experience when using a product or service. As you proceed, you’ll learn the value user experience design brings to a project, and what areas you must consider when you want to design great user experiences. Because user experience is an evolving term, we can’t give you a definition of ‘user experience’ to end all discussions, but we will provide you with a solid understanding of the different aspects of user experience, so it becomes clear in your mind what is involved in creating great UX designs.

If you are new to the Interaction Design Foundation, this course is a great place to start because it brings together materials from many of our other courses. This provides you with both an excellent introduction to user experience and with a preview of the courses we have to offer to help you develop your future career. After each lesson, we will introduce you to the courses you can take if a specific topic has caught your attention. That way, you’ll find it easy to continue your learning journey.

All Literature

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