Certainly you have already heard about Design Thinking and how practical and useful this tool is in the daily life of professionals of different areas.

Originally, it began as a way to teach engineers to approach problems creatively, as how designers usually work. It was therefore created as a practical instrument including ideation stages and applications prototyping.

One of the first people to write about this subject was John E. Amold, mechanical engineering teacher at Stanford University. 

In 1959, he wrote a book “Creative Engineering”, the text established the four fields of Design Thinking. From then on, design thinking began to evolve as a “way of thinking” in the science and design engineering fields.

This approach also can be seen in Herbert A. Simon’s book “Sciences of the Artificial” and in “Experiences in Visual Thinking”, by Robert McKim.

In the 1980s, the design centered on human beings evolved, which popularized Design Thinking and leveraged its influence around the business’ world in the beginning of the 21st century.

In 2005, Stanford School of Design, also known as “d.school”, started to teach Design Thinking as an approach to technical and social innovation.

In this article, we will explain its conceptions, stages, benefits, applications and app prototyping. Continue the reading and enjoy!

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is both an ideology and a method that seeks to solve complex problems in a user centered way. It is focused on achieving practical results and solutions that are:

  • Technically feasible - it can be developed into functional products or processes.
  • Economically viable - businesses have conditions to implement the approach.
  • Desirable for the user - it satisfies a true human need.

The conception behind Design Thinking affirms that, to get to innovative solutions, it is necessary to adopt the mindset of a designer and approach the problem from a user’s perspective.

At the same time, its goal is to transform ideas into tangible and testable products and processes as soon as possible.

The Design Thinking process describes several stages that bring this ideology to life - starting from creating empathy for the user, up to creating ideas and transforming them in prototype.

At this point, you are probably thinking that this sounds similar to UX (“User Experience”). So, what makes Design Thinking so special?

What are the benefits of Design Thinking?

Now that we know more about Design Thinking essence, let’s consider its importance.

There are a lot of advantages in applying this approach, either in a business, educational, personal, or social context.

Integrating Design Thinking into your business process can aggregate a huge value and ensure that products are both desirable for the customers, and viable for the company, regarding its resources and budget. Get to know the main benefits of this method:

1 - Encourage creativity and innovation

As human beings, we rely on knowledge and experience that we accumulate to inform our actions.

We shape standards and habits that, although useful in specific situations, can limit our vision of things when we are seeking for problem resolution. In contrast to repeating the same tested and used methods, Design Thinking encourages ourselves to consider alternative solutions.

All the process provides challenging assumptions and established belief, encouraging to think outside the box and exploring new paths and ideas. That fosters a creativity and innovation culture.

2 - Reduce significantly the time to market

The processes that are focused on innovation allow you to unexpectedly advance by creating several quick prototypes. In addition to this, it encourages feedback from real users and clients before you lose time, effort or money in any idea.

With its emphasis on problem resolution and on viable solutions discovery, Design Thinking can significantly reduce the time to market, reorganization and development.

3 - Decrease costs and ROI

Getting successful products to the market faster spares business resources.

Design Thinking has been proven to increase the ROI (“Return On Investment”). According to a recent McKinsey report, there are significant financial benefits of 32% more revenue and 56% higher total returns.

This extensive study shows that it can have financial, measurable and significant results and higher ROI that come from a consistent approach of Design Thinking for business.

4 - Improve client retention and loyalty 

The proper base of Design Thinking is empathy. Sometimes referred to as ”discovery”, it requires that we seek to understand and identify the users/clients’ requirements, challenges and experiences.

Hence, companies and organizations began to consider real people that use their products and services - which means being much more prone to create significant experiences.

For the user, that means better and more useful products that really improve our lives. For the companies, it results in happier clients and a healthier outcome. For this reason, Design Thinking increases engagement and retention in the long-term.

The goal is to develop useful products and solutions that solve the frustration and turn lives and experiences better and more gratifying.

5 - It can be applied in in the whole company

Design Thinking is also directed to create value and solve problems. However, instead of using any of this traditional way, it seeks to use design principles to solve problems in different areas.

As it is not just for designers, it takes advantage of the group thinking and encourages collaboration between teams.

By building multidisciplinary teams and bringing many voices to the table, we leave our respectives fields and “boxes” to share our knowledge, experiences and expertise.

Design Thinking is often mentioned as a healthy mid-term for problem solving - it's not entirely steeped in emotion and intuition, nor does it rely solely on analysis, science, and logic, but it mixes both.

If you are establishing a Design Thinking culture in your company, this method helps to innovate, focus on the user and, finally, project products that solve real problems.

What are the stages involved in implementation?

Design Thinking is, essentially, about project tools and processes with the final user in mind.

When we develop programs and platforms directly for people, we can increase engagement, satisfaction and retention. 

The implementation’s structure of Design Thinking can be divided into three different phases. 

1 - Ideation

Ideation phase sets the transition from problems identification to solutions exploring. It flows between ideas generation and evaluation, but it is important that each process must remain separated from the other.

While generating an idea, make it quickly without focusing on the idea’s quality or viability. Then, after collecting suggestions, go through the evaluation phase. Now you can start to discuss all the proposals. 

The ideation phase is usually a very creative and liberating phase for a team, because they have the permission to think outside the box before deciding how the prototype will be.

2 - Prototype

The goal is to start with a low fidelity version of the intended solution and improve it over time based on feedback. Beginning with a paper prototype can help you learn quickly with minimum effort. 

The prototype must be a realistic solution representation that allows you to understand what works and what does not. It is changed and updated based on the testing phase results on an iterative cycle. 

The light and lesser cost aspects of the prototyping allow you to develop multiple solutions to joint tests seeking to identify the best solution.

3 - Development

This process’ step of Design Thinking is dedicated to development: putting your prototyping in front of real users and seeing how they fared.

You will observe how "testers" engage with your prototype during this phase. Thus, you will gather feedback about how they feel during the entire process.

The testing and development phase points out rapidly any design flaws that needed to be approached. Based on what you learn, you will be able to develop solutions or products with more confidence. 

Remember: Design Thinking process is iterative, not linear. Many times, the testing phase results will require that you come back to the empathy stage or pass again through some ideation sessions before creating the winner prototype.

Design Thinking Tools

1 - Mindmapping

Mindmapping is a graphic technique in which participants build up a network of relationships. 

To start with the most straightforward way, the participants take a paper and describe the problem or determine a keyword. 

Then, they write solutions and ideas that come into their minds. After that, they connect their solutions and ideas by curves and lines in a graphic representation to facilitate everyone’s understanding.

2 - Brainstorm

 During the brainstorming session, you take advantage of the group’s synergy to archive new abstractions based on ideas of others.

Thus, the conceptions are blended to create a good concept or some different direction for the project.

The participants must discuss their ideas freely without fear of criticism. For that, you must create an environment where all feel comfortable, which will allow you to reach further than you could, just thinking logically about a problem.

3 - Co-creation with clients 

 This is one of the approaches that most reduce the risk to growth and innovation because it incorporates techniques that allow engaging a client/user while they are in the process of creating and developing new business ideas of mutual interest.

Changes are always about learning, and clients have a lot to teach. So the sooner they have some solution prototype or product to test, the faster we'll get to a differentiated value-added solution.

How to put concept into practice?

Design Thinking’s core is the intention to improve products by analyzing and understanding how users interact with products and investigating conditions in which they work.

The implementation of this concept enables new strategies to reduce costs, increase productivity and optimize time on cooperative teams.

Learn here how to start Design Thinking in your company:

1 - Engage with empathy.

The guiding principle of Design Thinking is empathy because, through it, it is possible to understand the client and their expectations and anticipate problems that he may find.

The goal is to make the motivations of the client/user an integral part of the exploration of the method’s central question.

After all, empathy allows that team’s members understand people’s subjectivity and, therefore, the user experience, putting the team in a better position to determine the design parameters of the project.

 2 - Remember that mistake is crucial to achieving success

Design Thinking tests prototypes as fast as possible to focus on parameters that will allow the project success. 

Quick testing aims to avoid negative results, compromising minimal resources and allowing the team to discover details that may have escaped designers in production.

The goal is to learn with failures and lose minimal time and investment. This way, the final focus is not on failure but on learning with frustrations. 

3 - Introduce gradually Design Thinking into your company

Don't try to convince employees of the merits of Design Thinking right away. Instead, introduce the principles gradually.

Make that a commercial value and encourage all to collaborate: launch some pilot initiatives, make people talk. Design Thinking strongly recommends integrating existing teams to use each other's skillset to design the best product..

Little by little, the entire company will transition toward the principles of this approach. As a result, you will create cohesion in the team and enjoy several advantages in the way your projects are conducted.

4 - Introduce the advantages of Design Thinking

Show your collaborators that Design Thinking is not a temporary trend but an approach that talks about interests that affect each of them, such as economic or management aspects and so on.

You can organize events in which you will make presentations about methodology and approach some subjects.

Like everything new, Design Thinking also must be adopted by its superiors to create an innovative environment. Therefore, everyone must recognize its legitimacy.

Design Thinking is also a new thinking

Design Thinking is not only a new management approach, but also a genuine change in thinking that strengthens teams, satisfies clients and responds efficiently to today’s competitive economy.

This method is a revolution that allows your business to thrive amid a constant flood of new product launches and evolving technologies.

Things outside your business have changed customer expectations and your next version will not be judged by how much your offer improves, but how it compares to your customer's product and services.

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October 3, 2021

Design Thinking: What is it and what are its benefits