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Design Thinking
May 16, 2022
User Experience

What is Design Thinking?

The design thinking approach is a set of principles and methods for solving complicated problems by prioritizing user interests. Design thinking helps solve a problem practically and creatively.

It distills empirical knowledge from various fields – including architecture, engineering, and business – and adopts solution-focused methods for resolving issues.

While a background in design is not needed for design thinking, prioritizing human interests is imperative as user needs are at the heart of design thinking, which is why it attempts to understand their needs and create an effective solution.

How does problem-solving differ from solution-based thinking?

While solution-based thinking focuses on finding constructive solutions to a problem, problem-based thinking concentrates on opportunities instead of obstacles and constraints. Empirical research conducted by Bryan Lawson at the University of Sheffield illustrates the key differences between the two approaches.

The study sought to determine how a group of designers and scientists would approach a particular problem. Student groups were required to build one-layer buildings from colored blocks in line with this. While the building represents the desired outcome (the solution), there were unwritten rules concerning the placement and relationship of certain blocks (the limitations).

Lawson’s results were reported in his book How Designers Think, in which he noted that scientists focused on identifying the problem (problem-based thinking). In contrast, designers stressed the need to discover the proper solution: “The scientists utilized a technique of rapidly trying out a succession of designs that used as many different blocks and combinations of blocks as feasible… As a result, they attempted to maximize the knowledge accessible to them regarding the permitted combinations.

If they could figure out the rule determining which block combinations were permitted, they could then look for an arrangement that would optimize the required color across the pattern”. Lawson’s results are at the core of Design Thinking, which is an iterative process based on continuous experimentation until the best solution is found.

What exactly is the Design Thinking procedure?

Design Thinking is a user-centric and progressive approach. To gain a deeper understanding of Design Thinking, consider the four principles articulated by Christoph Meinel and Harry Leifer of Stanford University’s Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design.

The Four Design Thinking Principles:

  • The human rule says that regardless of the context, every design effort is social in nature, and any social innovation will return us to the “people-centric point of view.”
  • The ambiguity rule states that ambiguity is unavoidable and cannot be eliminated or oversimplified. Experimenting with your knowledge and competence to their limits is essential for seeing things in new ways.
  • The rule of redesign states everything in the design is being redesigned. While technology and societal situations change and advance, fundamental human needs do not. We essentially rethink the ways of meeting these needs or achieving the intended goals.
  • The tangibility rule says by making ideas tangible in the form of prototypes, designers can communicate them more effectively.
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The 5 Stages of Design Thinking

According to the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (also known as, the Design Thinking process may be broken down into five parts or phases based on these four principles:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test
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Let’s take a closer look at each of these.


Empathy is an essential beginning point for Design Thinking. The first step of the process is spent getting to know the user and learning about their wants, needs, and goals. This step entails seeing and interacting with people to comprehend their psychological and emotional states.

During this phase, the designer attempts to set aside their assumptions to gain genuine insights into the consumer.


The problem is defined in the second step of the Design Thinking process. The designers compile all their results from the empathize phase and attempt to answer questions: What issues and barriers do the consumers encounter? What patterns emerge? What is the primary user issue they must address?

The designers get a clear problem statement by the end of this stage. The trick here is to define the problem in terms of the user; rather than saying “We need to…,” frame it in terms of the user: “Retirees in the Bay Area require…” After the problems have been articulated, the process to start figuring out the answers begins.


After gaining a firm grasp of user issues and a clear problem statement, it’s time to consider potential solutions. The third stage of the Design Thinking process is where creativity occurs, and it is critical to emphasize that the ideation stage is a judgment-free zone.

Designers will hold brainstorming sessions to generate as many different viewpoints and ideas as possible. Designers can utilize various ideation techniques, ranging from brainstorming and mind-mapping to bodystorming (roleplay situations) and provocation — an extreme lateral-thinking strategy requiring designers to challenge themselves. After the brainstorming process, the designers narrow it down to a few ideas to enter the penultimate stage. 


The fourth stage of the Design Thinking process is about experimentation and transforming ideas into concrete objects. A prototype is a scaled-down version of the product that includes the potential solutions identified in previous stages.

This step is critical for putting each solution to the test and identifying any restrictions or weaknesses. Depending on how well the proposed solutions perform in prototype form, they may be approved, enhanced, redesigned, or rejected throughout the prototype stage.


User testing follows prototyping. However, it is crucial to highlight that this is rarely the conclusion of the Design Thinking process.

In practice, the findings of the testing process will often bring you back to a previous step, offering the insights you need to rephrase the initial problem statement or generate fresh ideas you had not considered earlier. 

Is Design Thinking a Step-by-Step Process?

No! When looking at these well-defined processes, you might see a logical sequence with a predetermined order. On the other hand, the Design Thinking process is not linear; it is flexible and fluid, looping back and around and in on itself!

With each discovery brought about by a new phase, you will need to rethink and reinterpret what you have done before — you will never be traveling in a straight line!

What is the Goal of Design Thinking?

There are numerous advantages to employing a Design Thinking methodology, whether in a business, educational, personal, or social environment. Design Thinking, first and foremost, promotes creativity and innovation. As humans, we rely on the knowledge and experiences we have gained to guide our behavior.

We develop patterns and routines that, while valuable in some instances, might limit our ability to solve problems. Another significant advantage of Design Thinking is that it prioritizes humans.

Emphasizing empathy encourages businesses and organizations to think about the real people who use their products and services, increasing their chances of delivering meaningful user experiences. It implies better and more useful goods that genuinely improve the users’ lives, resulting in happier customers and a better bottom line.

Advantages of Applying Design Thinking at Work

As a designer, you significantly impact the goods and experiences that your firm brings to the market.

Integrating Design Thinking into your process may provide substantial business value, ensuring that the things you design are desired by clients and are financially and resource-wise sustainable. With that in mind, consider some of the primary advantages of employing Design Thinking at work:

Reduces time-to-market dramatically: because of its emphasis on problem-solving and developing viable solutions, Design Thinking can significantly reduce the time spent on design and development — particularly when combined with lean and agile methodologies.

Cost savings and higher ROI: getting successful goods to market faster saves the company money. Design Thinking has been shown to produce a substantial return on investment.

Improves customer retention and loyalty: Design Thinking provides a user-centric approach, increasing user engagement and customer retention over time.

Encourages innovation: Design Thinking is all about questioning assumptions and existing beliefs, and it encourages all stakeholders to think outside the box. This generates an innovative culture that reaches well beyond the design team.

Can be used across the organization: a nice thing about Design Thinking is that it is not just for designers. It promotes cross-team collaboration and utilizes collective thinking. Further, it may be used by almost any team in any business.

Whether you are attempting to develop a company-wide Design thinking culture or simply wanting to enhance your approach to user-centric design, Design Thinking helps you innovate, focus on the user, and design products that solve genuine problems.

What is a ‘Wicked Problem’ in Design Thinking?

When it comes to fixing ‘wicked problems,’ Design Thinking comes in handy. Horst Rittel, a design theorist, invented the phrase “wicked problem” in the 1970s to describe tough challenges that are highly ambiguous in nature. There are many unknown aspects to wicked problems; there is no definitive answer, unlike “tame” situations.

Resolving one component of a complex problem is likely to disclose or create new challenges. Another distinguishing feature of wicked problems is that they have no endpoint; as the nature of the problem evolves, so must the solution. Solving difficult problems is thus a constant process that necessitates Design Thinking! Poverty, starvation, and climate change are examples of wicked challenges in our society today.

Connection Between Design Thinking and User Experience Design

You have probably seen a lot of similarities between Design Thinking and user experience design by now, and you are probably wondering how they relate to one another. Both are strongly user-centric and driven by empathy, and UX designers will employ many of the Design Thinking phases, such as user research, prototyping, and testing. Despite their similarities, there are some critical differences between the two.

For one thing, the impact of Design Thinking is typically seen at a more strategic level; it examines a problem area to uncover feasible solutions in the context of understanding users, technology feasibility, and business objectives.

Design Thinking is being embraced and utilized by all levels of the organization, including C-level executives. If Design Thinking is concerned with identifying answers, UX design is concerned with developing those solutions and ensuring that they are useable, accessible, and enjoyable for the user.

Consider Design Thinking to be a toolkit that UX designers can utilize. If you work in the UX design profession, it is one of many critical approaches you will rely on to generate exceptional user experiences.


All areas in a company can benefit from Design Thinking. It can be aided by bright, airy physical workspaces that accommodate how employees prefer to work. To apply design thinking to all initiatives, managers should first define the consumers they are attempting to assist and then use the five stages of Design Thinking to describe and address the identified problems. Using a Design-Thinking process increases the likelihood that a company will be inventive, creative, more human and ultimately successful.

About the Author

Prashant Kumar

Prashant is a passionate technology entrepreneur, working tirelessly to assist business owners, executives and technologists realize their vision and maximize their ROI on digital value chains through innovative technology platforms and services. He is the founder and CEO of a portfolio of companies. Some of them are proven successful brands (i.e. TechBlocks, Flex1) with a track record of being the best in their respective domains. Others are stealth start-ups that are on accelerated journeys. These range from a BPO company to an online SaaS platform for HR.

His entrepreneurial journey started with TechBlocks; a family that grew from two people to more than 100 people between 2011 and 2018. He has assisted some of the finest CIOs, CTOs, and CEOs in the US, Canada, Asia and South Africa from Fortune 100 organizations, mid-market companies, and SMBs to start-ups successfully realize some of their most ambitious technology initiatives through TechBlocks and Flex1. We have provided our clients with a team of technologists, strategists, evangelists, and platforms with a single-minded goal of providing solutions that help them realize their desired business outcomes.

Additionally, his ventures run as an incubator and accelerator assisting start-ups funded by VCs and large enterprises building products and platforms, following lean engineering principles. Our goal is to bring your ideas to life in the quickest possible timeframe and optimize your digital footprint while keeping you nimble during growth. We have successfully done this for our clients and multiple companies that we have started and funded from ideation to revenue and growth stage. Flex1 is the latest example of that endeavor.

We are global, so is our presence and so are our clients. Our focus is on our clients, their clients, and stakeholders. With TechBlocks and Flex1, excellence under constant pressure has become a habit that we are religious about.

Prashant Kumar