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What is design thinking, and why is it important

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Design thinking is a method that can radically change the way organisations create products, services, processes, and strategies. This approach combines human aspiration to change, technological feasibility, and economic viability.

It empowers even those without a formal design background to employ creative techniques in tackling various challenges.

By adopting a designer’s mindset, organisations can merge user needs with practical and financial considerations to drive growth and sustainability.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a user-centric methodology that prioritises understanding people’s needs before developing solutions.

Its core principle is to first understand the end-user’s requirements and then create solutions that effectively address those needs.

Ultimately, design thinking is a solution-oriented strategy for problem-solving. This methodology is versatile and can be applied across diverse fields, not just design-related ones.

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What is the design thinking process? From innovative ideas to innovative solutions

Before exploring the process’s specifics, let’s look at the four principles of design thinking as defined by Christoph Meinel and Harry Leifer from Stanford University’s Hasso-Plattner-Institute of Design in California. 

  • The human rule: Design is always social in any context, steering us back to a human-centred perspective. So, the goal of all design activities is to meet social needs.
  • The ambiguity rule: Ambiguity is a part of any design process and shouldn’t be overly simplified or neglected.  Pushing the boundaries of your knowledge and abilities is inevitable to develop a fresh perspective.
  • The redesign rule: Design is always about redesign. Despite technological advancements and shifting social conditions, humans’ core needs stay constant. The goal is to innovate how these needs are met or desired outcomes are achieved.
  • The tangibility rule: Materialising different ideas into prototypes is a must for clearer communication among designers. This tangibility helps refine concepts and make them more understandable. 
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The five phases of design thinking

Based on the four principles discussed earlier, the design thinking process comprises five distinct phases outlined by Stanford University’s Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design, commonly known as the d.school.

Let’s explore each phase in detail to understand the design thinking process better.

Phase 1: Empathise

Empathy is the cornerstone of the design thinking process. In the initial phase, designers focus on learning about the user’s desires, needs, and goals.

They observe and interact with users to understand their psychological and emotional states.

During this stage, designers set aside preconceptions and biases and gather genuine insights into the user experience.

Phase 2: Define

Designers consolidate the insights gathered during the Empathise phase to identify obstacles and patterns users face.

The goal is to clearly define the key user challenge that needs to be addressed. 

By the end of the Define phase, you should have a clear problem statement framed from a user-centric perspective.

Instead of stating the issue as an internal organisational need (“We need to…”), it should be phrased in terms of the user’s needs (“CEOs in the Bay Area need…”). 

Phase 3: Ideate

The third phase, Ideate, focuses on generating potential solutions with a deep understanding of the problem and users.

Designers conduct ideation sessions to explore numerous risky ideas and perspectives.

They employ various techniques, such as brainstorming, mind mapping, bodystorming (role-playing scenarios), and provocation – a lateral-thinking method that questions norms and investigates new possibilities.

The goal is to explore a wide range of concepts without criticism.

Phase 4: Prototype

The fourth step, Prototype, focuses on experimentation and making ideas tangible by creating simplified product versions.

A prototype integrates potential solutions from earlier phases. This stage is important for testing each solution, identifying limitations, and revealing flaws. 

During prototyping, solutions are iteratively tested and may be accepted, refined, redesigned, or declined based on performance. This trial-and-error phase enables designers to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Phase 5: Test

Following the prototyping phase, the next step is user testing. Keep in mind that this final phase is seldom the conclusion of the design thinking process.

In practice, the insights gained from testing frequently direct you back to earlier stages.

This iterative process allows you to refine the complex problems statement or generate new ideas previously unconsidered.

Testing goes beyond just checking the current prototype; it’s an important part of the ongoing learning and development cycle that improves the solution’s efficiency and the way it meets user needs.

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What is the purpose of design thinking?

After exploring the design thinking process, let’s learn why it is important. Employing a design thinking approach offers benefits across various domains – business, education, personal growth, and social engagement.

As humans, we draw on our accumulated knowledge and experiences to guide our actions. While the patterns and habits we develop can be advantageous, they also tend to limit our perspective when faced with new challenges.

Design thinking pushes us to break free from these habitual thought processes and experiment, broadening our problem-solving capabilities. 

Instead of relying solely on familiar, tested methods, design thinking motivates us to shed our blinkers and entertain alternative approaches. This entire process is driven towards venturing into unexplored things with fresh ideas. 

Design thinking is frequently recognised as the optimal balance in problem-solving. It doesn’t lean entirely on emotion and intuition nor wholly dependent on analytics, science, and logic.

Rather, it integrates both, using the strengths of creative thinking and systematic analysis to forge viable solutions. 

Another advantage of design thinking is its human-centric approach. By focusing on empathy, it prompts businesses and organisations to focus on the actual people who use their products and services.  

This approach greatly increases the likelihood of delivering meaningful user experiences. For users, this translates into better, more practical products.

For businesses, it leads to satisfied customers and, ultimately, better business outcomes. This link between user satisfaction and business success highlights how effective it is to prioritise human needs in product and service design. 

What are the benefits of design thinking?

Designers play a key role in defining the products and experiences their company offers to the market. Incorporating design thinking into the workflow can significantly enhance business value.

This approach ensures that the products you create are not just appealing to customers but also economically viable, technologically feasible, and resource-efficient for your company.  

Embracing design thinking allows you to balance aesthetic and functional appeal with practical business considerations, leading to products that both satisfy customers and achieve company objectives. 

With those insights, let’s explore some key benefits of employing design thinking in the workplace: 

  • Reduces time-to-market: Design thinking focuses on practical problem-solving and feasible solutions, which can drastically cut down the time required for design and development. This is particularly potent when combined with lean and agile methodologies, streamlining the path from concept to market.
  • Cost savings and high ROI: Accelerating product development saves money by reducing overhead and resource allocation and enhances revenue through faster product launches. For example, teams implementing design thinking practices have reported up to 300% ROIs.
  • Enhances customer retention and loyalty: A user-centric approach improves user engagement and long-term customer retention. By continuously meeting real user needs, businesses also can cultivate deeper customer loyalty.
  • Encourages technology: Design thinking challenges conventional assumptions and encourages all stakeholders to think creatively. As a result, it fosters a culture of creativity and innovative thinking across the organisation.
  • Broad applicability across the organisation: One of the greatest advantages of design thinking is its versatility. It’s not confined to designers; it encourages collaborative and cross-functional teamwork. It can be effectively applied across various teams and industries. 

 

Whether you aim to cultivate a design thinking culture across your entire company or just seek to enhance your user-centric design approach, design thinking is an invaluable tool.

It empowers you to innovate, focus intensely on the user, and design products that address real user problems.

By integrating design thinking into your processes, you ensure that your solutions are impactful and aligned with user needs, thereby driving greater satisfaction and success in your market offerings. 

How do companies build a design-driven company culture?

Business success requires more than just a profitable offering; it requires empathy and purpose. Design thinking places customers, employees, and the environment at the core of problem-solving.

This approach ensures your design solutions are financially viable, socially responsible, and sustainable.

By prioritising human and ecological considerations, businesses can cultivate deeper connections, nurture loyalty, and amplify their positive impact on society and the environment. 

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Here are 4 ways to get started with design thinking

Gather insights by practicing empathy, observation, and interviewing

Understanding your customers is the first step in creating products and services that meet their wants and needs.

Instead of making assumptions about their thoughts or feelings, gather detailed information about your target customers. This is a key element of the design thinking approach.  

Working on your interview skills will also help in collecting this information. Here are some tips to help you build those skills:

Listen actively, ask open-ended questions to encourage detailed responses, practice empathy to understand user experience and needs, and always adapt your questions based on the conversation flow. This approach will improve your insights and strengthen your connection with customers.

Build prototypes to learn about unmet needs

Prototyping doesn’t require extensive time or resources. Start simple, using tools like pen and paper or a digital slide deck to sketch out ideas and gather early feedback.

At this initial stage, you will refine your understanding of customer needs before significant investments are made in production.

Turn problems into questions

When faced with a problem, resist the immediate impulse to solve it directly. Instead, shift your mindset towards asking questions that probe deeper into the issue’s core or could lead to incremental improvements.

This approach can open up new pathways to understanding and solving challenges more effectively.

Use user research to understand the past, present, and future

Research efforts generally fall into three main categories: 

  • Generative research: This type of research helps to identify new opportunities and explore emerging needs. It focuses on uncovering insights that can inspire innovation and inform the development of new ideas and solutions.
  • Evaluative research: Evaluative research helps to gather feedback on experiments and prototypes, helping teams iterate and refine their solutions. It tests hypotheses and validates assumptions to ensure that designs meet user needs effectively.
  • Validating research: This category encompasses traditional market research methods to understand current trends, behaviours, and preferences. It provides insights into existing market dynamics and customer behaviours to inform strategic decision-making. 

 

Balancing these approaches allows teams to gain a helicopter view of both current realities and future possibilities, guiding them toward successful outcomes. 

Insights from Senior Designer at Altamira

To illuminate the multifaceted nature of design thinking, Yana Holtseva, a Senior Designer at Altamira, brings in her expertise.

With extensive experience in applying design principles across various industries, Yana brings a depth of knowledge and a pragmatic approach to our discussion. She will share her valuable insights and proven strategies, shedding light on how design thinking can transform conventional approaches.

Why do you believe design thinking is important and relevant for businesses today?

Today, design thinking enables companies to be more agile and adaptable. By embracing this approach, businesses can develop creative solutions that deeply resonate with customers.

As a result, we have better products, services, and internal processes. Additionally, design thinking is a powerful tool for aligning teams under a shared vision, promoting cohesive and effective collaboration.

What are some common misconceptions about design thinking that you encounter?

One major misconception is that design thinking is only for designers.

However, it’s a universal problem-solving approach that can benefit anyone across various roles, including HR, operations, and marketing.

Another misconception is that it’s a linear process. It’s absolutely non linear process.

In reality, design thinking is highly iterative and flexible. Teams often cycle through the stages multiple times, refining their solutions based on honest user feedback.

What initial steps would you recommend for businesses looking to integrate design thinking into their processes?

Start small by identifying a single project or problem area where design thinking could make a significant impact.

Assemble a cross-functional team and train them in the basic principles of design thinking.

Encourage this team to apply the entire design thinking process from start to finish. 

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Embrace the mindset that every problem is an opportunity. The core of design thinking is being curious, willing to experiment, and learning from each iteration.

It requires patience, empathy, and a keen focus on user needs. Begin incorporating these elements into your daily work; you’ll transform how you approach challenges.

The final words

The design thinking framework facilitates a natural flow from initial research to final implementation. It begins with a deep understanding of the customer experience, gathering data that is distilled into actionable insights.

These insights guide teams in establishing design criteria, sparking the generation of innovative solutions.

As we move forward, design thinking methods help us tackle common challenges like cutting costs, managing risks, and gaining employee support by proactively countering mental biases that might otherwise stifle creativity. 

By recognising that organisations comprise individuals with diverse backgrounds, ideas, and emotions, design thinking prioritises engagement, conversation, and continuous learning.  

At Altamira, we stand ready to offer complex design solutions tailored to your needs. Whether you’re seeking advanced Web Development Services or Cross-Platform Mobile App Development, our team is dedicated to delivering excellence in every project. With our commitment to design thinking and teamwork, we pave the way for transformative solutions that improve user experiences and operational efficiency. We consistently focus on your users’ needs and let empathy steer your path toward innovation. 

Want to learn how this approach can help your project? Contact us!

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