Design Thinking: Process, Examples, & Models

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Design thinking is a special approach in design to creating new products and solutions with great attention to the needs and desires of potential and existing users. Specialists that apply design thinking today say it’s a versatile tool that can be used for everything from creating mobile apps to planning some public events. The basic principles of design thinking are:

  • detailed study of the experience that users receive when interacting with the product
  • the desire to think outside the box to come up with interesting and unique solutions
  • taking into account different scenarios of behavior and interaction with a new product.

The design thinking approach helps to create the design that understands humans, that’s why at the outcome you will get an innovative solution that will propel your business.

This post will give you a quick understanding of what the process of design thinking is and provide you with popular design thinking examples and models used by well-known companies. This way you will have a solid base to continue studying this question deeper.

Let’s waste no time anymore and take a look at what the design thinking process consists of.

Main stages

In fact, design thinking is a transition from a task to its solution using iterations in a cycle. We focus on the needs of users, which is why design thinking is often referred to as Human-Centered-Design. 

Experienced designers are already familiar with the process, however, we’ll take a quick look at the phases of this cycle and their key points.

Empathize

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The start point is not a goal to be achieved, but a person who needs something or wants to solve a problem. Once we understand what need/problem your users have, we can think of possible ways to satisfy them.

You need to not just define the problem, but also fill it with context. To gain deep insight into understanding your audience’s needs answer six questions (who, why, what, when, where, and how):

  • Who is your target audience (size, type, characteristics)?
  • Why does the user think they need this solution?
  • What does the user suggest as a solution?
  • When and for how long the user needs the result (project time frame or product life cycle)?
  • Where will the result be used (environment, industry, location, country)?
  • How will the result be implemented (skills, budget, business model, go-to-market)?

Defining a point of view

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At this stage use all the findings from the previous phase, interpret and analyze them. You can encourage the team to share their own experiences to build a shared knowledge base. Distill research findings into artifacts such as storyboards and user personas.

So, the goal of the Define stage is to clearly state the problem that will take into account the user, their needs, and insights from the previous stage. 

Search for ideas

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At this stage, you need to come up with and visualize as many concepts of the future product as possible. You can use methods that increase creativity, such as brainstorming and sketching. 

As well, ideation is closely related to building and testing prototypes. Depending on the formulation of the problem, you can first conduct a general brainstorming session and then visualize your ideas with the help of customer journey maps, user flows, wireframes and gradually move to the next phase of design thinking – prototyping.

Prototyping

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Prototyping lets you think over and visualize the layout of important interface elements and content. With its help, you try the application in action and test it to understand whether the user experience or the user interface requires any improvements and modifications.

Testing

After the prototype is ready the testing phase begins. It can be done by your internal team, but interaction with potential users is essential. 

An efficient way to test prototypes and individual functional characteristics quickly is by conducting usability testing. Usability testing helps you to see if users feel comfortable when interacting with your product. This stage provides the highest quality feedback. Based on this feedback we develop and improve an idea until we (and our users) love it. 

Examples

It’s always easier to understand something when we see how it works in practice. That’s why here we are going to provide you with some real cases of implementing design thinking.

S-Oil

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S-Oil is a Korean filling company that set an ambitious goal to become the industry leader. But they were limited in time and finances, which, of course, made the task even more complicated. In addition, there was quite tough competition on the market. But they had one distinct advantage – they knew the basics of design thinking.

The company conducted a survey of their customers, as a result, the most problematic issues were identified. It turned out that in order to find a free parking space, each car owner drives an extra 15 km a month, winding additional circles in the parking lot. Perhaps, it has little to do with selling gas but the company wanted to show concern for its customers. S-Oil came up with an inexpensive solution to this problem: yellow ball-arrows that indicated free parking spaces.

This way S-Oil Corporation became the second-largest oil and gas company in South Korea, solving one of the main problems of car owners, increasing sales, and establishing itself as a company that cares about the environment and natural resources.

New MRI for a hospital in Pittsburgh

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Anyone who has undergone an examination on an MRI machine at least once in his life will say that this procedure is not pleasant. Loud and unexpected sounds can scare even an adult. A group of researchers implemented a project that made an MRI examination look like an exciting quest.

In one of the Pittsburgh hospitals, each MRI machine has turned into a fascinating attraction like a pirate ship, an underwater kingdom, or a rocket. Now children began to undergo examinations with pleasure. Doctors have even cut their prescription of sedatives by 20%. This did not require reworking the already expensive medical equipment.

Google

The examples above showed us some unique cases of implementation of design thinking but there are also popular big companies that use this human-centered process on a regular basis and have their own adaptation of this model. 

For example, take a look at the way Google organize their design sprints.

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Here is what each stage in this process includes:

  • Understand. At this stage, they learn who the user is, what their needs are, who their competitors are.
  • Define. Next, the Google team formulate the strategy.
  • Diverge. At this stage, they develop lots of solutions.
  • Decide. Here they choose the best idea and visualize it by creating a storyboard.
  • Prototype. In the prototyping stage, they build something quickly to roughly show to users. They rather focus on usability than making it look nice.
  • Validate. Finally, they show the prototype to real users outside the company, learn what works and what doesn’t work. 

Design thinking is a cycle not a linear process

The final words we want to state are that before starting a new iteration, it is worth considering the chosen direction. Answer the question, how socially acceptable and efficient in terms of resources are the ideas and the results of their testing. Answer two questions: what went well and what needs to be improved. 

Based on the conclusions made, update all the design deliverables if necessary. In general, analyzing your result before a new iteration helps to explore new opportunities that potentially lead to better solutions or improve the overall process.

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