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The Beginner's Guide to Design Thinking

design thinking Jul 30, 2021

Companies that follow design thinking have greater revenues and returns from shareholders. They also outperform the S&P 500 Index year after year.

The biggest businesses in the world - from Google and Airbnb to Nike and IBM - use this practice.

But what exactly is design thinking? And more importantly, how can you use it? The design thinking process has gained momentum in the business world and is critical to personal and business success.

In this article, we walk you through what this transformational principle is, how it works, and why it's important.

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is primarily a framework that approaches problems creatively. According to to IDEO, the organization that pioneered this strategy, the official design thinking definition includes business, creativity, and solutions.

Thus, design thinking is a way to solve problems by putting yourself in the customer's shoes. The process requires observation and empathy. This is then applied in a practical way to create a solution.

One of the core focuses of this approach is that it is 'human-centered'. It uses evidence of how humans engage with services and products as evidence for bettering a customer's experience.

It is thus iterative, prototypical, and uses brainstorming mechanisms to problem-solve.

History of Design Thinking

Design thinking has manifested itself in different ways for many centuries. Solutions such as transport systems, monuments, and ATM machines are all a result of this kind of thinking. This is because a human-centered approach created a meaningful and valuable solution.

However, there has been a strong divide between the creative design world and the business world. Corporations used design as a means to alter a product's aesthetic qualities rather than address real needs.

Customer's needs were never met and sales were slowing down. To combat this, companies moved their designers to the ideation stage rather than just the aesthetic process.

This new process was then termed 'design thinking' by David Kelley and Tim Brown. Together, they formed IDEO, which standardized the methods and strategies of design thinking. 

IDEO helped apply this design process to business problems. Thus, the business world and design world finally met in innovating solutions!

Main Elements of Design Thinking

Design thinking uses certain ideas that provide a foundation to create solutions. These elements include:


Design thinking is first and foremost empathy. It utilizes user-centric design to drive innovation. This helps in creating a genuine, valuable, and worthy product for the audience.


The aim of this tool is to gain a diversity of voices and perspectives. It thus encourages collaboration between different industries, disciplines, and teams that often don't get to work cooperatively.


The design thinking process begins with brainstorming and ideation. Team members remain encouraged to come up with as many ideas as possible. A free flow of ideas with limited judgment or negativity is also encouraged. Once a large quantity of ideas gets produced, it is then easier to focus on quality.


Design thinking encourages you to go as out of the box as possible, maybe even destroy the box altogether! The more creative and innovative your solution, the better.


The brainstorming process leads to a flow of ideas, which are then refined. This approach uses constant refining, updating, and changing to get to the best possible version of a solution.

The Four Principles

Design thinking follows four main processes that allow it to be innovative and human-centric. These include.

The human rule: All solutions have a foundation in the human-centered principle. Design thinking believes that all users and consumers are social in nature. Prototypes and inventions then need to account for the sociability of the user.

The ambiguity rule: Unlike many other flows of thinking, design thinking does not hold ambiguity as negative. Rather, it's regarded as an inevitable by-product of the design process. Team members attempt to design around ambiguity and account for it.

They can do this by experimenting as much as possible and pushing the envelope. Only then will solutions offer up a viable alternative that produces change.

The redesign rule: The design thinking process stresses iteration consistently. Changing and redesigning an idea for the better is essential. Just as human needs change and evolve, so too can products. 

Thus, if a solution doesn't bring about the expected outcome, it is expected that it will be improved upon.

The tangibility rule: Using prototypes and models is a fundamental tool in the process. This way, design thinkers are able to visualize their solutions in a more tangible form. Products then have the ability to remain tested tangibly, which improves them in the long run.

What Are the Advantages of Design Thinking?

Design thinking is one of the most critical tools businesses can leverage. It helps create a better product while being engaging for both the creator and the client.

Let's take a look at why this tool is so important today.

Solves a Definite Need

Many businesses innovate for the sake of it. They come out with multiple product lines rather than improving on existing ones. In addition, they fail to take into account what the consumer is actually looking for.

Using the design thinking approach ensures that a definite need or problem is being solved. By identifying issues, design thinkers are solving problems that need fixing.

Tackles Difficult Problems

The reason design thinking is such a coveted skill is that it solves difficult problems. For example, clients often don't know why they don't like a product, or what changes can better it.

Through observation and iteration, design thinkers are able to approach these problems in a logical and analytical way. Thus, even ambiguous problems are easily broken down into smaller steps for clarity.

Provides Groundbreaking Solutions

It often feels like every good idea is taken and all great solutions are out there already. Design thinking allows business owners and other creatives to break free from this mold.

They are able to pioneer fresh thought that others have not yet thought of. The results are creative, innovative, and novel.

Cost Savings

Getting great responses from customers increases sales through word-of-mouth spread. In addition, design thinking allows products to get to the market faster, with less recall.

This can result in tremendous cost savings for firms. For example, IBM had a return on investment of 300% due to design thinking!

Increases Efficiency

The more times an idea goes through the iterative process, the more likely it is to achieve perfection. Using multiple prototypes and testing conditions increases the efficiency of a solution.

It can also be applied company-wide and for multiple types of teams. Cross-collaboration helps increase communication and efficiency.

No wonder so many mega-corporations use this tool!

The Design Thinking Process

There are certain design thinking steps that make this tool successful. 

The design thinking framework follows a general workflow with different phases. Each phase has a definite goal so that the entire process is optimized and efficient. Let's take a look at the steps below.

1. Empathize

Leaders are starting to recognize the importance of empathy in business. The first step uses empathy as a starting point for this reason. A great deal of time is spent on understanding the user and their needs, desires, and wishes.

Design thinkers do this by looking at scientific research, observing, and engaging with their users. An emphasis is placed on getting to know the user on an emotional level. 

At this point, design thinkers ask users questions about motivation, experiences, and perspectives.

2. Define

In this stage, all the evidence comes together. Take your findings from observations and research to begin formulating a plan.

Design thinkers in this stage will analyze patterns, difficulties, historical problems, and more. A problem statement is generated to summarize these findings.

The aim is to have a scope of focus that involves the consumer rather than the designer.

3. Ideate

Now it's time for the fun part: the actual problem-solving! Here, team members are encouraged to get creative and innovative. Brainstorming sessions are held to come up with different ideas with different perspectives.

Techniques such as mind mapping, roleplaying, visualizing and more are used. The main aim of this phase is to fight against assumptions and established beliefs. Instead, designers are encouraged to focus on alternative innovations

All the brainstorming will then help team members narrow down their idea. 

4. Prototype

Prototypes are made of the finalized ideas. This stage involves turning ideas into physical products or implementable services. 

Creating prototypes helps understand what a finished product may look like. It will also help identify any flaws so that they can be worked upon. The main aim here is to redesign and improving a solution so that it can be the best possible version.

5. Test

After prototyping comes to the user experience stage. The solution is tested with its target audience to determine if it is useful. The client feedback loop helps narrow down the prototype and ready it for use.

Since the whole design thinking process begins with the user, it is only natural that it ends with the user as well!

6. Implement

This additional step ensures that your solution has reached its target audience. The prototype has been finalized, is ready, and is now being used by your target audience. 

This stage is critical because it is the true test. Does the solution transform the end user's life? For the design thinking process to have been successful, the product must be transformational.

Although the process was long and oftentimes challenging, it is also extremely rewarding and fulfilling. To know that you have impacted lives and changed existing problems can be a heart-warming feeling. 

It is after these six steps are completed that the design thinking process is put to rest - for now. It then starts again with all other solutions and products you may have in mind!

What Industries Can Use Design Thinking?

While design thinking has roots in UI/UX design, it is today used by individuals in all sorts of industries.

One of the main focuses of design thinking is collaboration. Thus, multidisciplinary projects require team members with various backgrounds. These backgrounds can include scientists, engineers, writers, chefs, artists, and business owners.

Design thinking is all about breaking down complex systems, no matter which industry they may lie in. Thus, having a fresh voice from a different industry is seen as an asset rather than a detriment.

How Can I Learn Design Thinking?

Design thinking is one of those tools that is going to be an asset for life. We recommend investing your time and effort in learning about this practice so that you can apply it in various situations.

If you're interested in learning and applying the principles of design thinking to your work or personal situation, consider a design thinking certification

Look for a course that offers you foundational knowledge at a beginner level. This will allow you to understand the vocabulary, basics, and methods so that you're able to problem solve easily in the future.

Apply the Design Thinking Framework to Grow Your Brand Today

The best thing about design thinking? Its versatile nature makes it applicable to pretty much every context, from the automobile industry to the fashion world. Every freelancer, agency owner, CEO, strategist, and designer can benefit from implementing this tool in their life.

If you'd like to learn more about design thinking, be sure to check out Teccelator. Our design thinking fundamentals workshop is sure to help you generate innovative ideas and bring them to life.

You'll learn all the fundamentals of this strategic tool so that you can make transformational changes in your workplace.

Click here to book a free consultation call today. We'll help turn your ideas into reality!


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