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So What is Design Thinking and why do we need to know how to use it?

How do you create something completely new? Something that’s better, more efficient, or more beautiful than ever before? This requires a way of thinking that:

  • Focuses on the needs of the end user
  • Encourages new perspectives and examines every angle
  • Says that mistakes aren’t just okay, they’re part of the design process
  • Believes that the end product can always be improved

Design thinking is a process that has several distinct, but repeatable steps.

Step 1: Empathy

How do you create something entirely new that focuses on the end user? First, you observe them. Who are they? What makes them tick? What are their goals, desires or fears? To truly understand a target market, you have to focus on the emotions. Fully understanding the emotional context of a user is a vital prerequisite for smart design.

Step 2: Define

After observing and interacting with people, design thinkers can’t help but begin to understand their problems. What’s missing from their lives? What would make things easier? Why doesn’t the solution already exist?

Design thinkers focus on the simplest form of a problem. 

Step 3: Ideate

Once design thinkers know why, the next step is how. Unfortunately, many non-design thinking companies will often skate through this part. They’ll find one idea, concept or visual identity that seems to work and will simply go with it. But is it the best idea from a long-term or an end-user perspective?

When one only considers the first idea (or the second), one misses out on the chance to create something truly unique and revolutionary. The first ideas of even the most creative people are often simply regurgitations of existing ideas. Instead, design thinkers like to throw lots of ideas around and see what sticks. The idea is to collaborate and develop ideas together.

Step 4: Prototype

Once we’re pretty sure we have the best idea, we create a prototype. If we were in the business of designing running shoes, we’d produce a physical version of the finished shoe in the cheapest, fastest and most efficient way possible (ie" out of paper, plasticine or other easily accessible materials).

Prototypes need to be scrappy and cheap to whip up because we need to get them into the hands of customers quickly to test whether they are feasible, desirable and viable solutions for their problems. If they are, we progress and interate the prototype. If they're not, we simply throw the prototype away and start again (and don't feel like we've wasted too much money or time :)  

Step 5: Test

Once design thinkers are confident about the prototype, it’s time to invest the real deal. ie: Running shoes improve, roll out to the market and websites go live.

But design thinking isn’t done yet.

Remember Step 1? We go right back to the end users to find out how they’re using the product and how they feel about it. Did we solve the problem? Did we solve it in the best way possible? Chances are, there will always be room for improvement and design thinking allows us to continuously grow and learn how to do that.

The Purpose of Design Thinking

So why design thinking? What makes this process better than others?

When you’ve been in business for a while, it’s easy to hit the auto-pilot button and roll out “new” products that are more like their predecessors than we might care to admit. It’s easy to experience a success and think, “That’s good enough. What’s next?” It’s easy to believe our apparent limitations and simply live within them. But this is not where creativity and innovation live. They live in design thinking.

If you want to consistently create completely unique, well-thought out products that have been distilled to their very best design, and are solving real problems for real customers, then design thinking is the way to go.