What is Design Thinking?

Jessamyn Vanechuk Pothier, Intermediate Designer

Representation of jumbled brain next to a normal brain

In short, design thinking is a process used to solve a problem. You might already use a variation of this process in your own work and not realize it. Design Thinking is not only for designers, it can be used in various applications to help businesses, marketers, artists, and many others. The main idea behind Design Thinking is to approach the problem from the user's perspective.

“We must design for the way people behave, not for how we would wish them to behave." ― Donald A. Norman, Living with Complexity

Whether you’re a designer or an entrepreneur, you can likely benefit from this way of thinking. All you need to do is follow these five steps:

Step 1: Empathize

The main goal of design thinking is to find solutions that meet the user's needs. So, the first thing that needs to happen is to step into the user's shoes and understand the problem at hand. For example, let’s say you’re trying to streamline the process of ordering a coffee at a store you own. Try actually going into the café yourself and placing your order as if you were a customer. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Step 2: Define

In the advertising world, we call this the briefing process. Gather all the information you’ve collected from step 1, and define the problem. These details could include anything from how old your target audience is, to cultural considerations around colours or language, to what browser your target audience uses. Once you have very clearly outlined the task at hand, you can move on to the next step. This step will guide the rest of the process, so it’s important that it’s as clear as possible.

Step 3: Ideate & Collaborate

In step 3, try and come up with as many ideas as possible. Go for quantity over quality at this stage. No idea is stupid, and everything is possible. Mind maps, sketching, and post-it notes are some tools that might help the flow of ideas and possible solutions. Collaboration is your best friend here, too. 

Step 4: Experiment & Prototype

This is where you start to see your ideas come to life. Choose your best ideas, and turn them into a prototype. A prototype can be many things: a logo design, a shopping cart, an app, moon boots, etc. Humans, and their ideas, are all so different! Not everyone will understand or love your idea, but this is where you need to figure that out.

“I try not to think outside of the box anymore, but on its edge, its corner, its flap, and under its bar code.” — Clint Runge

Step 5: Test

Once you’re happy with your prototype you will move on to testing. You’ll observe users interacting with your product or service and gather feedback. It’s likely that you will have to go back to any of the previous steps and try again. You will make changes based on your learnings and repeat the process until you’ve arrived at your solution!

Ultimately the goal is to come up with new, innovative ideas, and use this roadmap to bring them to life. Design Thinking is a non-linear process; results can continuously be reviewed, questioned, and improved at any stage. It can be used for anything from redesigning the homepage of your website, to addressing complex issues like climate change.