• UX Design

Design Thinking: The Process and The Methodology

Simon Khramtsov
2 Sep 2020
9 min
Design Thinking: The Process and The Methodology

It may sound funny, but design was important even in prehistoric times. It all started with hunting weapons made of wood and rocks. Over time, people built houses and created vehicles. Through trial and error, they managed to create outstanding things that were so good at solving particular problems that we still use them daily.

Now we call it “user experience,” and it’s become even more critical. One of the best ways to craft outstanding user experience (UX) is design thinking. If it sounds familiar, but you can’t put your finger on it, don’t worry. In this article you’ll find out what design thinking is, when it is applied, and how you can achieve it. Buckle up!

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    What is design thinking?

    Client’s preferences are often impacted by their emotions, and this is why modern UX design trends are shaped by the need to predict and create positive emotions. To create a convenient and practical product, a UX designer must understand the user’s pains and fears. 

    Design thinking is about just that.

    Let’s be thorough and start with the definition.

    Design thinking is a technique – or rather a mindset – based on understanding human needs, generating creative ideas, and creating a working prototype as a result. This method originated in the early 1950s and has been advanced and adopted for business and design purposes by David Kelly, the founder of the design agency IDEO

    When applied correctly, design thinking allows quick creation of prototypes based on the client’s needs and the ability to test them in action. Design thinking is all about creating products and services that improve people’s lives, leading to advancements that break rules, changing situations, or even worldviews (like Airbnb changed the way we approach accommodation when traveling).

    This approach has both functional and emotional components and lies at the intersection of rational analysis and emotional creativity. This allows designers to rethink existing tasks and come up with new possibilities for business.

    The purpose of design thinking

    Design thinking provides a creative solution-based approach to tackling problems. It lies in combining what’s desirable from the human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. 

    Its iterative process serves several causes: 

    • Stimulates teams to discover alternative solutions and strategies
    • Encourages them to challenge the existing assumptions and reframe the existing problems
    • Reduces the risk associated with implementing new ideas or services
    • Helps understand the end-user better

    This approach is vital for projects and products that are in constant need for innovation or change and require a consistent flow of new ideas and creative solutions. Whether you design a new product or implement a unique feature, applying this method is a must. 

    A product created with design thinking in mind surpasses the competitors who regularly copy each other. In fact, design thinking allows UX designers and teams to set trends, profit thanks to the innovations in their products, and hold leading positions on the market. 

    And don’t think it’s a new concept for some niche players. Consider this: implementing design thinking helped Airbnb become the industry leader we know today. Uber Eats enforces design thinking principles to improve its smooth user experience even more. IBM even created a design thinking toolkit after having made millions of dollars using this method. Impressive, isn’t it? 

    Implementing design thinking: the design thinking methodology

    According to the model offered by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, design thinking has five stages:

    1. Empathizing
    2. Defining
    3. Ideating
    4. Prototyping
    5. Testing

    When translated to UX design, the stages can be explained like this: 

    1. Understand
    2. Research
    3. Analyze
    4. Design
    5. Test
    6. Analyze (yes, again)

    In the past, the role of design was only tactical: it allowed designers to improve what they already had. This is sometimes called “design doing” – design of particular existing functionality. Design thinking can, on the other hand, offer a strategic approach to create products and projects from the start, being a source of ideas itself. 

    Let’s draft a roadmap for UX designers who want to follow the design thinking principles to help you really understand this approach. 

    Design thinking roadmap for UX design

    You already know that, in theory, the design thinking method consists of five stages. In practice, however, the process isn’t always linear – and that’s normal because it is iterative. Some steps can be repeated multiple times, and you can even jump back and forth between them. It may sound confusing at first but, when applied, the process becomes much clearer, helping teams reach solutions they haven’t even thought of before. We’ll show you each stage in detail.

    1. Empathize 

    It all starts with understanding the objective of the product you design by learning to understand your end-user. In other words, gather insights. Don’t assume what they feel; get into the user’s shoes, go on a field trip, ask lots of questions – anything that helps you understand not just what you are designing but also what for.

    The basic principle of design thinking is putting yourself in the position of users to provide the best user experience. Designers who follow it pursue the interest of an individual and not a company, a manager, or an institution.

    2. Define 

    In many companies and studios, design is often considered the first stage of development because teams rush to showcase the finished product faster. This is why clients rarely see prototypes. But the problem is, if you skip the UX prototyping process and go straight to the UI, you risk encountering critical issues when it’s more difficult and time-consuming to fix them. Design thinking helps avoid such problems. This is what this step is about: processing and accumulating the information you’ve gathered during the previous stage. The team analyzes the data and defines the core problems that arise, called problem statements. To make these more human-centered, you can create user personas. Your main goal here is to come up with the major questions which you will address during the next stage.

    3. Ideate

    Design thinking states that solutions lie in the creativity the team implements, making creative search a necessity. The following criteria support the ideation process:

    • Clarity: A UX designer knows the objective and the purpose of the product.
    • Focus: The goals and targets are specific. The focus is set on what’s important.
    • Restrictions: Restrictions should be defined in as much detail as possible. Too many constraints, however, limit freedom and prevent design thinking from unfolding. So UX designers should strive for balance: set clear goals while allowing yourself the freedom to reach.

    There are dozens of techniques for generating ideas, such as brainstorming, sketching, SCAMPER, and others. The most important thing at this stage is to cut off criticism and generate the maximum number potential solutions. This way designers can come up with practical yet, often, unexpected decisions. 

    4. Prototype

    There’s no design thinking without prototyping and testing. This is when your team puts their ideas on trial. The core idea of the prototyping stage is based on the simple principle: if the idea is worth implementing, it stays. If not, it means the hypothesis was wrong, and this idea should be discarded. It’s crucial to make a low-fi UX prototype for future development and tracking down any problems. 

    But we know that some teams have the wrong idea about UX prototyping (what it means when you need to do it, etc.) that are counterproductive to design thinking. So, what is the right approach to UX prototyping in the context of design thinking?

    A prototype is something visual, something specific, something to discuss. It helps to test assumptions and hypotheses, and its purpose is to teach, provide a vivid platform for discussion and opportunities for problem-solving. UX product designers can show prototypes to different people to evaluate their response or get a green light on some solutions. And if something doesn’t work, the team can see it right away, which allows them to quickly change the course of action. 

    If you don’t want to make scary, fundamental changes at the later stages of product development, start with rough conceptual UX prototypes and advance into well-designed high-precision UI prototypes.

    5. Test 

    After prototyping, it’s critical to run user testing. Luckily, there are numerous testing methods. For instance, we go with A/B testing for mobile applications. For those of you who don’t know, A/B testing means showing different user groups alternative versions of the product and comparing the results to determine which worked best. This technique is especially handy when it comes to optimizing target web pages and transitions. 

    Make sure that quality research is an integral part of the process from the very beginning. And never forget to track the performance by asking questions like, “What else can be improved?” or “Do we need to re-run the test?” Finally, after the problems have been fixed, we recommend running the test one more time, because a prototype should only be launched after thorough testing.

    Based on the test results, the team can either return to a previous stage to refine the prototype or search for better solutions, or advance with the release of the feature, product or solution they’ve been testing.

    Final tips from Postindustria

    When applied right, design thinking can help create highly efficient out-of-the-box designs and products that give you a competitive advantage on the market. 

    To take your understanding of this method even further, here are some more tips from Postindustria.

    Try multiple approaches

    One of the keys to successful user experience is using several models. A good design method encourages exploring different approaches for the final solution before incorporating the best features and eliminating problems.

    Generate a lot of ideas

    And test them to create rapid UX prototypes, no matter how rough and simple. Test multiple alternatives even within a single idea, explore the diversity, and don’t discard opportunities until you verify them. In most cases, testing alternative ideas and making fast prototypes inspires even more ideas or helps combine several solutions into a better and more successful one.

    Start with cheap and fast prototypes

    Start simple. Create fast prototypes. Use inexpensive, easily accessible materials in the early stages to rapidly prototype with low fidelity. Always make sure your UX prototype is only as detailed as necessary for the testing you’re running. This won’t let you or your teammates get too attached to the prototype. 

    Oh, and be prepared to destroy or discard these models after you get your answers. There should be no strings attached when it comes to prototyping. Having a disposable prototype is a billion times better than a worthless concept.

    Evaluate your work

    Non-working models and erratic solutions are inevitable to the UX/UI design process, but you need to identify them while there’s still time for fixing. Evaluate your UX product prototype, test the idea, and its functions, usability, and utility. Revise your design solutions until they’re simple, clear, and serve their primary objective – to provide an intuitive and smooth user experience.

    The takeaway

    Designers can create truly meaningful products only when they keep their focus on defining the problem. They need to imagine the emotions people will get out of using their product and design a solution that will help them achieve their goals or meet their needs. 

    Design thinking is a method that helps UX designers achieve just that.

    It may not be easy to establish design thinking as the primary approach in your team. But it helps when your UX designers learn to put themselves in the users’ shoes and create rapid, cheap prototypes to illustrate or test their ideas before proceeding to the UI design stage. And if you encounter any problems along the way, Postindustria’s UX design team is here to help. Just drop us a line!

    Book a strategy session

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