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What Is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is an iterative, trial and error process and a highly solution-based approach to solving problems. Design Thinking is about understanding the people for whom we’re designing products or services; it deals with questioning the problem, the assumptions, and the implications. In the process of answering, asking, and re-answering them, we begin to reframe the problem and test new concepts and ideas.

What is the purpose of Design Thinking?

Design Thinking fosters creativity and innovation. When we rely on historical knowledge and experiences, we tend to form patterns and habits that can limit our problem-solving capabilities. Instead, Design Thinking expands our horizons and encourages radically alternative solutions. It challenges conventional assumptions and forces us to explore newer ways.

The Stages of Design Thinking

Design Thinking essentially moves through five stages to solve customer needs.

  1. Empathy
    We begin by getting to know the user—their wants, needs, and objectives. This usually means closely observing and engaging with the people who will eventually use the solution that we design. We try to understand them on a psychological and emotional level. This stage is not about assumptions but a diligent gathering of real-time insights.
  2. Define
    In this stage, we define the problem. After we gather all of our findings from the previous step, we begin to make sense of them. What are the difficulties and complications that users are experiencing? Are there patterns? What is the one big problem that the design team needs to solve? By the end of this stage, we should have a clear problem statement. It is crucial to frame the problem from the user’s perspective rather than stating it as a problem we need to solve.
  3. Ideate
    Once we have clearly articulated the user’s needs and the aspects that require work, we begin work on potential solutions. This is where the creative process begins. It is highly crucial to keep the ideation stage free of judgments; nothing is deemed wrong, all opinions and perspectives will be up for open debate and discussion. This stage is usually a series of ideation sessions, from brainstorming and mind-mapping to roleplay exercises and highly provocative arguments. The focus is on lateral thinking, allowing designers to challenge established beliefs and explore new options and alternatives. By the end of the ideation phase, we would have narrowed down a shortlist of ideas and ways to move forward.
  4. Prototype
    The prototype stage is about converting ideas into tangible products. Like the manufacturing industry, prototypes are scaled-down, first draft versions of the product, incorporating potential solutions identified in the previous stages. The key focus of this stage is to test each solution for any constraints or flaws. The proposed solutions can be continually altered, redesigned, or rejected during the prototype stage, based on how they fare in prototype form.
  5. Testing
    While this is supposed to be the final stage in the designing cycle, it is rarely the end of the Design Thinking process. That is because the results of the testing stage will more often than not lead us back to a previous step here. We tend to go back to the drawing board. After all, we are just testing a possible solution. The testing stage usually provides fresh insights, sometimes forcing a redefinition of the original problem statement. The team suddenly realizes a new idea that we had not thought of before.

In conclusion

The Design Thinking process is by no means linear. While there is indeed a logical sequence, the method, in reality, is highly flexible and fluid. Design Thinking always puts a lot of emphasis on the real people who will eventually use the products or services. And for businesses, this means focussing on customers and accurate solutions. It is certainly worthwhile to consider enrolling for a design thinking course. There are several good online courses to choose from, based on your budget and convenience.

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