What is Design Thinking? Why is it so popular?

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Airbnb. Apple. Bank of America. Google. Microsoft. Netflix. Nike. Oral B. PepsiCo. Samsung. Starbucks. These are just some of the many businesses and organizations around the world that have revamped their projects, brands, and entire practices through design thinking.

At first glance, this term may sound like it is limited to the design realm. But that’s hardly the case. Organizations across fields and industries — from tech to academia to science to art — are leveraging a design thinking framework to innovate and humanize their practices and principles.

Design thinking is used to solve problems. Beyond that, it can help organizations eliminate barriers and silos. And beyond that, it boosts organizations by improving the customer experience tenfold. In essence, it makes businesses disruptors. 

What is design thinking?

Let’s start with a brief design thinking definition: this is a process that allows you to better understand your users and devise innovative solutions for conceptualizing products and services, allowing creators to test out different types of strategies. It’s about thinking outside the box — developing ideas that aren’t immediately obvious at first glance. 

A large part of the design thinking process is gaining deeper insight into the people who will use your products. You are empathizing with your users and challenging assumptions. 

It is no longer simply a design thinking methodology — today, there is an entire movement surrounding the concept that has taken hold. It involves everyone on the team, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the consumer experience.

What are the phases of design thinking?

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford describes design thinking as a five-stage process. These stages may run concurrently or repetitively, and they don’t always need to take place in the order defined below. 

1. Empathize

To fully immerse yourself in the user experience and gain an understanding of the consumer’s needs, you must empathize with them. This means researching to put yourself in the user’s shoes. When you perform this research, you will be able to operate according to real evidence, as opposed to assumptions, biases, and conjecture — none of which have any place in the design thinking process or software development in general.

2. Define

You’ve done your due diligence and done your research. Now, it’s time to define the goal of your product. What problem are you trying to solve? What needs are you meeting with it? These are critical questions to ask yourself to fully conceptualize its purpose and develop a design thinking framework.

3. Ideate

Next, it’s time to come up with ideas. Start brainstorming different options for tackling the problem and goal you have defined. At this stage, nothing is off-limits, no matter how impractical your possibilities may seem. Consider several different alternatives — that way, you will have plenty to choose from and develop further.

4. Prototype

Here, you’ll start working on actually carrying out one or more of the ideas. You should narrow down your list to the best and most realistic ones and begin to conceptualize how it will look in real life. You’re not building the actual product at this point — instead, you’re building a bare-bones, stripped-down version of it.

5. Test

The design thinking process isn’t over yet. In this phase, you will test out whether your concept has real merit. Based on the results, you will probably need to make tweaks and adjustments, refining the product further to bring it to life.

Bear in mind that you can return to and repeat any of the steps in this list again and again. 

How can design thinking boost your business?

Design thinking offers many rewards to organizations across spaces. It leads to a better understanding of your user base and encourages you to employ new strategies to reconceptualize problems and obstacles. It leads to innovation and creativity — in fact, both of these qualities are critical for establishing a meaningful design thinking methodology.

Moreover, it means better collaboration within your team and with clients and consumers. 

Some people look at design thinking vs. user experience as separate concepts, but, in fact, they are intertwined. You can perceive the user experience as a chief component of the design thinking process, where the user is central to your approach. However, the framework extends beyond the user, encompassing all spaces, departments, and people within your organization.

The benefits are endless. Some additional advantages include:

• Embracing a human-first perspective

• Improved problem-solving

• Developing new ways of thinking and doing

• Challenging perceptions and assumptions

• Testing ideas

And finally, design thinking means overall better products — which, of course, means greater profits and more satisfied consumers.

Thinking outside the box

While the design thinking process is not synonymous with thinking outside the box, the terms do go hand in hand. Thinking outside of the box is not a structured methodology or approach — instead, it is simply a term to encourage the grappling with new ideas. But design thinking is a structured vehicle for solving problems and bringing people together to collaborate.

Design thinking involves looking at the big picture in every scenario and developing patterns for how to approach a new product or idea. It enables everyone — including those who are not designers — to employ creative concepts for tackling obstacles. In fact, in many ways, it sits at the intersection of art and science. 

The approach challenges commonly-held assumptions — and encourages professionals to think beyond their traditional perspectives, even if they have worked in the past. It sits in direct contrast to the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality, allowing organizations to truly advance.

A design thinking process in your organization

Design thinking is foundational to Nearsure’s approach — and it should be integral to yours as well. No matter what you do and how you do it, this type of mindset is critical for solving problems and creating great products, contributing to the larger success of any organization across industries and sectors. It’s big-picture thinking in action — something you can’t afford to be without.