From heavy hitters like Apple, Google, and IBM to growing startups, everyone seems to be implementing design thinking to drive innovation and results. But how?
Design thinking isn’t just a session where everyone gets together in a room and thinks really hard about design solutions. It’s actually an iterative process made up of five phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. And with each phase comes important tools and apps to help you succeed.
Here are some of our favorite design thinking tools, broken up by phase:
Empathize and define
The first step of design thinking is to understand the problem you’re trying to solve through observing and actually talking to your customers. Then, in the define stage, you’ll consolidate and analyze the information you gathered to define the core problem.
You won’t be able to talk to all of your customers in person, so get familiar with video conferencing software like Join.me that will let you talk to anyone from around the world. Join.me lets you share your screen, schedule invitations, and record calls—and you can claim your own personalized meeting URL to share with participants, allowing them to attend via desktop, VoIP, mobile, or phone.
As you wrap up user research and usability tests, you’ll move into the define stage, where you’ll work to analyze those findings and establish elements to help users resolve their problems. Boards can help you put everything in one place for ultra-easy sharing and collaborating with coworkers. You can drag and drop graphics, video and audio files, color swatches, font files, and more.
You could collaborate on a to-do moodboard to track progress and to-do lists or a brand asset board as you start to define elements.
Related: Journey mapping powers better design thinking
During the third stage, you’re ready to start generating ideas. You understand your users and their needs. Armed with this information, you can explore creative ways to solve the problem.
Freehand is an entirely new way to creatively collaborate in InVision. You can wireframe, plan, design presentations, and gather feedback in real time across mobile, web, and tablet. Freehand gives everyone on your team the power to share their ideas in a way that makes sense to them, whether that’s sketching, drawing, dropping in images or inspiration, or typing up their feedback in a comment box.
Visualize your ideas with Coggle, an online tool for creating and sharing mindmaps. You can take notes, brainstorm, or plan design ideas and share with as many colleagues as you like. Drag and drop images, add floating text and annotations, and create loops and branches to organize information.
5. Focus Booster
The ideation phase is a great space for all of the ideas and creativity you’ve got. To help make your brainstorming sessions long enough for ideas to flow but short enough to stay productive, use a timer like Focus Booster. Focus Booster works with the Pomodoro Technique, breaking up work into 25-minute blocks followed by five-minute breaks.
Now you’ve had some solid brainstorming time and you’re ready to meet one of your ideas IRL. In the prototyping stage, you’ll produce scaled-down versions of the product so you can see how it works in real life.
6. InVision Studio
InVision Studio lets you design, prototype, and animate—all in one place. With flexible layers and an infinite canvas, it’s easy to turn ideas into powerful designs.
Thanks to point-and-shoot prototyping, a comprehensive gesture picklist, and instant playback, you can create fluid interactions and high-fidelity prototypes faster than ever. You can then preview your work directly within Studio, quickly adjusting and scaling your vision to fit any screen or layout, automatically.
7. Craft by InVision
Craft is a suite of plugins to let you design with real data in mind. Want to make your prototypes more realistic? Craft lets you add real, unique content with a click. No more copying and pasting, or making up fake usernames. You can even add in content from live web pages.
Related: The 5 most common rapid prototyping mistakes and how to avoid them
You can also build clickable prototypes right inside your design environment, link your artboards together with interactive hotspots, and sync your designs with InVision with just a click.
In the final phase of design thinking, you’ll test the complete product to ensure it solves the problem you defined. This will involve user testing and usability studies, often leading you to redefine one or more problems based on the new insights you gather.
Ethnio lets you create elegant recruiting screeners to find the right participants for your in-person or remote testing via your website, iOS or Android app, or shared link. Then, once you’ve identified the right people, you can use Ethnio’s automated tool to customize every email your participants receive, send them automatic reminders, and more.
Price: Free 14-day trial. Plans start at $79 per month.
Talk to your users and see how they’re using your app or website with Lookback. You can easily set up live, moderated testing with anyone in the world, recording faces, screens, and voices. If you want to scale your user research you can send a self-test, allowing them to participate on their own time.
The top design thinking tools
Any team or organization can implement design thinking to create better products, but don’t expect it to happen overnight. Just like with any organizational change, implementing design thinking into your organization will take some time.
It’s not all bad! With these design thinking tools, you can get organized, collaborate with your team, and really understand your customers.
For more on design thinking, check out the Design Thinking Handbook at DesignBetter.Co.
Emily has written for some of the top tech companies, covering everything from creative copywriting to UX design. When she's not writing, she's traveling the world (next stop: Japan!), brewing kombucha, and biking through the Pacific Northwest.