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What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular?

Design Thinking is not an exclusive property of designers—all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering, and business have practiced it. So, why call it Design Thinking? What’s special about Design Thinking is that designers’ work processes can help us systematically extract, teach, learn and apply these human-centred techniques to solve problems in a creative and innovative way — in our designs, in our businesses, in our countries, in our lives.

Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and GE, have rapidly adopted the Design Thinking approach and Design Thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including d.school, Stanford, Harvard and MIT. But do you know what Design Thinking is? And why it’s so popular? Here we’ll cut to the chase and tell you what it is and why it’s so popular.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding. At the same time, Design Thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods.

Design Thinking revolves around a deep interest in developing an understanding of the people for whom we’re designing the products or services. It helps us observe and develop empathy with the target user. Design Thinking helps us in the process of questioning: questioning the problem, questioning the assumptions, and implications. Design Thinking is extremely useful in tackling problems that are ill defined or unknown, by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing. Design Thinking also involves ongoing experimentation: sketching, prototyping, testing, and trying out concepts and ideas.

Design Thinking’s Phases

There are many variants of the Design Thinking process in use today, and they have from three to seven phases, stages, or modes. However, all variants of Design Thinking are very similar. All variants of Design Thinking embody the same principles, which were first described by Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon in The Sciences of the Artificial in 1996. Here, we will focus on the five-phase model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, which is also known as d.school. We’ve chosen d.school’s approach because they’re at the forefront of applying and teaching Design Thinking. The five phases of Design Thinking, according to d.school, are as follows:

  • Empathise – with your users
  • Define – your users’ needs, their problem, and your insights
  • Ideate – by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions
  • Prototype – to start creating solutions
  • Test – solutions

It is important to note that the five phases, stages, or modes are not always sequential. They do not have to follow any specific order and can often occur in parallel and repeat iteratively. As such, you should not understand the phases as a hierarchal or step-by-step process. Instead, you should look at it as an overview of the modes or phases that contribute to an innovative project, rather than sequential steps.

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The WebRecital is a dedicated User Interface/User Experience professionals who come together to provide design and research workshops, portfolio reviews, and educational outreach to the greater Seattle area.
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