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Why you need design thinking and how to put it into practice

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It’s more than a methodology or a framework. Design thinking has the power to take you and your team through the trickiest of problems—often with a winning solution on the other end.

The concept, popularized by Stanford’s d.school, combines the problem-solving roots of design with deep empathy for the user. Together, the pair is incredibly successful at showcasing relevant solutions for real problems.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” – Tim Brown, IDEO

However, sometimes the biggest challenge of all is spreading the mindset and physical practice of design thinking through an entire organization. It’s not only up to the designers to make magic.

How spreading design thinking to your team helps solve big challenges

In 1958, 4 months after Sputnik launched and President Eisenhower created NASA, a Stanford engineering professor named John Arnold proposed that design engineering should be human-centered.

That was the start of everything.

Read: The full story of how design thinking came to be

After that human emphasis was developed into a formal product design system, notable companies like IDEO and IBM snatched it up and immediately infused the principles into their own workflows.

So why do you need design thinking?

The short answer is that it brings everyone—beyond designers and developers—into to product design process.

This in turn helps entire organizations scale their design processes to create better, human-centered user experiences and disruptive products. It also helps “instill a bias toward action,” as told by Eli Woolery in the DesignBetter.Co Design Thinking Handbook.

When it comes time to fuse design thinking practices into your team’s daily workflow, you can use the d.school’s design thinking framework to jumpstart the effort.

The 5 steps of this framework are:

  1. Empathize
    Empathy is the foundation of the whole design thinking process. It ties directly to the Guess Less principle of design thinking, wherein you actually conduct research and interact with the people you’re trying to help.

    Hint: If you’re remote, try a minimum viable ethnography, like a camera study. We’ve outlined a full camera study and user permissions in Chapter 2 of DesignBetter.Co’s Design Thinking Handbook.

  2. Define
    Accurately defining your problem is about reframing it. With the research you collected in the Empathize phase, put together a point-of-view statement—or a problem statement—to help explore and open innovative solution spaces.

    Hint: We explain all 3 elements of a great POV statement in the Design Thinking Handbook. Once you’ve crafted a statement, use the checklist and Madlib exercise in Chapter 3 to make sure it truly covers all the right bases.

  3. Ideate
    This is when you go beyond basic brainstorms. Brainstorming isn’t about new ideas so much as generating lots of ideas with your team in one spot. During the ideation phase, you’ll also have the chance to loop in stakeholders. In addition to getting everyone on the same page before designing anything, there are 2 core elements that make a brainstorm successful: deferring judgement and opting for quantity.

    Hint: There’s an entire chapter dedicated to helping you set up a brainstorm. Chapter 4 covers what to do before, during, and after your session with details like how to create the right space, incorporate visuals, and choose the most workable ideas. Plus, there are a handful of brainstorm alternatives to try out. 

  4. Prototype 
    The whole point of a prototype is to get useful insights faster than it would normally take if you built and launched a full product. Therefore, you want to get a prototype up and running as soon as you can in the product design process. When it comes to fidelity, choose low or high based on the kinds of questions you still need to answer. 

    Hint: Try the time-boxed prototype method for low-fidelity deliverables. With time as a limiting factor, you can also try Wizard of Oz prototyping (described in detail in Chapter 5), wherein you use real people or resources like Zapier to do the back-end work.

  5. Test 
    According to Woolery, “a beginner’s mindset opens you to both the many possible directions of your design and to the ways it might address real human needs” when you test a prototype. The idea of this mindset is that you won’t be blinded by assumptions—and you’ll be able to correct course fast if you missed something big.

    Hint: To set up a test correctly, start by pinpointing objectives. Then, recruit users, but don’t explain too much to them. The value add comes from watching people interact with your prototype as if you weren’t there.

Of course, empathy always comes back into the mix. After you work through the steps in the framework, you’ll need to continue thinking of the real people who need your solution.

“Compassion in tandem with a beginner’s mind helps us translate empathy into action. If we instill a sense of duty toward users in our designs, we can align our products with the humans who use them—and perhaps improve their lives along the way.” – Eli Woolery, DesignBetter.Co


Author

Kaysie Garza
Kaysie is a digital copywriter at InVision—devouring books, French fries, and hiking trails when she isn’t working on words.

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