Design thinking is a way of approaching the design process that ensures you are providing value through effective solutions with the end users’ needs in mind.
The solution-based mindset was popularized in 2008 by Tim Brown, CEO of the design firm IDEO.
The philosophy at the heart of design thinking is that you should include the experiences and feedback of a diverse range of people during the process to help identify the most common needs of the average user.
Design thinking also gives designers and non-designers alike a standardized way of approaching the process that helps foster communication, creativity, and ultimately leads to customer-focused solutions.
Focusing on the needs of the end user impacts the way designers think. It helps them distance themselves from their ideas and overcome unconscious bias to explore new ways of thinking.
The first step of effective solution-based design is to get to the heart of the problem at hand.
Understanding the Problem
Designers often think about things differently than the average person, and their perspective is only one way of looking at a problem. It may not always lead to the most efficient solutions.
Design thinking always has the needs of the end user in mind. User-centered goals guide design teams to the best solutions naturally.
Empathy is at the heart of the design thinking process. It helps you connect with the end user on a deeper level.
The best way to get into an empathetic mindset is to approach the design from the perspective of a complete beginner. What might come naturally to you may be a potential pain point for the end user.
Unfortunately, the distance between a designer and the end user often hinders empathy. It can be easy to move overlook the true problem that needs to be solved.
Traditionally, designers employed customer research methods such as polls and surveys to gather more data about the problems their users faced. However, these are rigid and only allow participants to respond in ways set by the designer themselves.
The solution is to involve a wide variety of potential users in the design process directly, so they can uncover pain points that might be invisible to a more experienced designer.
Once you have assembled a diverse team of dedicated people, you can start to think about defining the problems you need to solve.
Once you have input from your team about potential needs that need to be met, it’s important to force yourself to see the problem from different points of view. You can do this by creating fictional profiles of potential users, called “Points of View,” or POVs, to help reframe the problem and see it from their perspective.
Points of View (POVs)
There are three elements to a successful point-of-view:
Who is the user?
Consider all the different types of people that will be interacting with your product or service. Beginners, veterans, and everyone in between. The more diverse of a team you’ve gathered, the easier it will be to think of potential users.
What problems do they have that remain unsolved?
Consider the various points of contention these users may have with the current solution at hand. How can these problems be solved?
Is this an insightful position?
Not every POV is created equal. What new or interesting perspectives does this POV provide? Does it help fuel new ideas and concepts? Does it streamline and focus your goals?
Once you’ve developed several POV profiles and filtered out the best ones, break them down into potentially actionable solutions you can expand upon—these will be used during the brainstorming step, coming up next.
Explore a Wide Range of Possible Solutions
The problems that your team identifies are only as helpful as the solutions that they inspire. Once you’re sure you’ve homed in on the correct pain points, it’s time to start thinking about how you can alleviate them.
A brainstorming session is one of the most valuable ways your team can generate possible solutions. You should try to conduct as many as possible to ensure you have plenty of potential solutions to work with.
During a brainstorming session it’s important not to pass judgement on any idea, no matter how unrealistic. The goal here is quantity over quality, because sometimes the most outrageous ideas can challenge inherent biases and result in effective, realistic solutions.
Be sure to record the results of your brainstorming session so you can return to them later during the prototyping and testing stages.
Prototyping and Testing
After you’ve done plenty of brainstorming, get feedback on the generated solutions with stakeholders and potential users. Early on, you can filter out the impossible solutions by setting them to the side. Eventually, you’ll want to start visualizing potential solutions.
Prototypes of various fidelities can be used to communicate form and function to members of the team, and eventually can be put to the test in real-world applications.
Low-fidelity prototypes should be used to visualize the final product and identify its critical functions. Examples include sketches, wireframes, and outlines.
Higher-fidelity prototypes can be used to test functions and solve larger problems during the development process. These can include scale models and actual, functioning tests of the final product or service.
During this time, its important not to form attachments to ideas or solutions, because there is the potential that they will not work out. But by prototyping early and often, you can avoid wasting time, money, and effort on things with a higher risk of failure.
You can only go so far with low-fidelity prototypes before you must begin testing. Start by using the prototypes to solve smaller problems at first, then iterate after successful tests.
It’s important to set distinct objectives before the testing phase begins. Think about the problems that you’re trying to solve and the function or functions that are being tested.
Do your best to involve real-world end users in higher-fidelity tests. If this isn’t possible, ensure that the testers you select have a high level of empathy and can see problems from different perspectives.
Prep them by giving them a goal to work towards, but don’t explain to the tester how to operate the product—observe how they are inclined to use it and consider how it lines up with the current design and structure.
Ensure that all test results are recorded as accurately as possible so you can review them later. How do your findings support or contradict your initial POVs?
Testing is one of the most important aspects of the process because it creates a safe environment for change. It allows for radical ideas to be considered at a low cost and risk to the team. If done early enough, it can lead to new, innovative ideas and solutions.
The wonderful thing about design thinking is that it can be applied to virtually every industry. It can be a great method of shaking up the way you design your product or service.
Design thinking is all about a including a wide variety of perspectives. If you need help approaching your design process from a different angle, don’t hesitate to reach out to Signify Studio for a free quote.