A Beginner's Guide to Design Thinking : What is Design Thinking?

What is Design Thinking?

What is Design Thinking?

Tim Brown, executive chair of the IDEO asserts that 

“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.” 

In essence, design thinking takes a human-centric approach to solve problems creatively and prompt innovation across various disciplines, industries, and in different aspects of our lives. Design thinking is also considered a creative problem-solving methodology to address “wicked problems".

What Exactly is a Wicked Problem?

Wicked problems are extremely ambiguous. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, it is defined as follows.

A wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that’s difficult or impossible to solve—normally because of its complex and interconnected nature. Wicked problems lack clarity in both their aims and solutions, and are subject to real-world constraints which hinder risk-free attempts to find a solution.” 

Common examples of wicked problems include but are not limited to the following.

  • Education 
  • Financial crises
  • Poverty
  • Health care
  • Obesity 
  • Sustainability
  • Climate change
  • Technology Access 

Today, many companies including Apple, Toyota, Microsoft, Samsung Electronics, Bank of America Corp., PepsiCo, and Nike are exploiting design thinking to solve wicked problems and stimulate innovation. Moreover, design thinking has become a buzzword in education, with the focus on developing the students' creative confidence

Why is Design Thinking Important?

The core aim of design thinking is to develop usable products or services based on a thorough understanding of the following.

  1. Who your customers are?
  2. What are their experiences?
  3. What are their physical and emotional needs?

Basically, by leveraging design thinking we are immersing ourselves in our customer's context. By this, we can gain the following. 

  • Build customer empathy i.e., developing a deep understanding of our customer's in their natural environment.
  • First-hand insights into their everyday lives, i.e., by identifying their behaviours and experiences, emotions, feelings, likes, uncover pain points (i.e., problems/frustrations that your current or prospective customers are experiencing with a product or service), and needs.

Ultimately, by empathizing with your customers,  you can achieve the following. 

  1. Clarify ambiguous problems or identify those that were difficult to define.
  2. Visualizing what could make their lives easier and more enjoyable, and how technology can improve their lives.
  3. It favours an iterative and creative approach to problem-solving that prompts ideation, reflection, experimentation through prototyping, and ultimately, the development of innovative products and services.
  4. Design new and efficient products or services that satisfy the customer's needs.
  5. Provide solutions to solve your customers' pain points.

Brief Overview of the History of Design Thinking

Herbert Simon's seminal text on design theory and techniques, “The Sciences of the Artificial (1969),” is one of the most thought-provoking and influential texts expounding on the science of design, which ultimately emerged as one of the first seminal works to formalize the design thinking process. 

Simon's seven-stage model remains the foundation for several emerging design thinking models today. Although there might be differences in the number of stages, it is important to note that they all rely on the same principles highlighted in Simon's design thinking model. To dive deeper into the origins of design thinking I encourage you to read this Wikipedia article in addition to Design Thinking: Get a Quick Overview of the History by the Interaction design foundation.

In this course, we will focus on the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (d.school) five-stage Design Thinking model, which will be explained in more detail in the upcoming sections.

Additional Resources

  1. https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/DESI_a_00320
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14606925.2019.1594961
  3. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/5-stages-in-the-design-thinking-process

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Kadian Davis-Owusu (PhD)
Kadian has a background in Computer Science and pursued her PhD and post-doctoral studies in the fields of Design for Social Interaction and Design for Health. She has taught a number of interaction design courses at the university level including the University of the West Indies, the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC) in Jamaica, and the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. Kadian also serves as the Founder and Lead UX Designer for TeachSomebody and is the host of the ExpertsConnect video podcast. In this function, Kadian serves to bridge the learning gap by delivering high-quality content tailored to meet your learning needs. Moreover, through expert collaboration, top-quality experts are equipped with a unique channel to create public awareness and establish thought leadership in their related domains.... Show more