Design Thinking

Design Thinking


According to a case study, the average person has more than 6,000 thoughts each day. That’s a lot of thoughts in a small amount of time. 

Now, imagine if business owners used at least one third of those thoughts to think about their customers’ comfort; teachers about their pupils’ point of view; and doctors about their patients’ needs. As Mandy Hale put it: “There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others”.

And this is the premise upon which design thinking rests - being mindful of others’ needs and taking account their perspectives and problems. 

And this can be tough - in a world where everybody’s chasing their own personal goals, putting others first will definitely be a challenge for many. But that’s where design thinking comes into play.

What Is Design Thinking?

Tim Brown defines design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

The Interaction Design Foundation explains it as “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.”

In essence, design thinking refers to a very conscious process whose function is to arrive at a specific decision, work through a particular challenge, and/or solve any problems.

Many tend to connect design thinking with design only, but they differ. In fact, non-designers tend to practice design thinking far more than actual designers. This is so because design thinking is a specific mindset, it’s a way of thinking, and a problem-solving framework applicable across a wide range of disciplines.

It requires a very conscious and diligent approach, rather than spontaneity and randomness. Design thinking is all about the practical application of your ideas, thoughts, and methods. It may start off in the mind, but as time progresses and as ideas are developed, it becomes much more tangible.

Design Thinking Examples 

It’s already clear how powerful design thinking is, so let’s see what it looks like in practice. After all, we’re talking about a very specific process that’s meant to assist people practically in making the necessary changes.

Below, we share several examples that best illustrate design thinking at play. 

1) Airbnb

Today you probably can’t plan a vacation without relying on Airbnb, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, back in 2009, Airbnb was close to going broke.

So, one afternoon, the Airbnb team (i.e. its three young founders) was going through the New York listings, and they suddenly had an epiphany as to why they weren’t growing. Gebbia, one of the founders, noted that: “We noticed a pattern. There's some similarity between all these 40 listings. The similarity is that the photos sucked. The photos were not great photos. People were using their camera phones or using their images from classified sites. It actually wasn't a surprise that people weren't booking rooms because you couldn't even really see what it is that you were paying for.”

Then, Graham, another one of the founders, suggested that they go to New York with a camera, spend some time at the clients’ listed properties, and then substitute the existing amateur photos from the site with high-resolution images.

Only a week later, they saw results: by simply improving the images, they managed to double their weekly revenue to $400 per week (previously it had been $200 per week). This was the first noticeable shift they experienced in over eight months.

This was the company’s turning point.

2) PillPack

This case study explains how PillPack, which is said to now deliver hundreds of thousands of prescriptions each month, began as an in-residence start-up at IDEO Cambridge. 

PillPack managed to completely upgrade their brand and delivery through work with various designers, the adapting of their strategies, and a human-centered approach 

Here’s how this online pharmacy works: doctors send their patients’ prescriptions to the PillPack pharmacists; then, the pharmacists handle the medications - including over-the-counter drugs, refills, supplements, and vitamins - into personalized packets. Afterward, these packets (labeled by time and date) get delivered to the patients’ homes. 

Some of the changes that took place included refining the brand’s vision and overall identity, adding a private dashboard for customers, and redesigning PillPack’s site.

In an article about the company, Wired stated: “PillPack has revealed the massive potential of combining design thinking and the drug market... This simple innovation makes life easier for seniors who can be a bit forgetful and have difficulty with bottles. [...] Younger patients with active lifestyles and chronic diseases can just pull as many packets as they need and go. All told, PillPack means you’ll never have to help your grandma sort pills into a tacky day-of-the-week organizer again.”

3) IBM Design Thinking

IBM is a great example of a company that’s fully devoted to design thinking. In fact, IBN Design Thinking is said to have added +20.6M in revenue, developed better customer relations, and bridged the gap between design and product teams to improve overall profits. 

That said, what exactly is IBM Design Thinking? IBM Design Thinking has been defined as “a set of behaviors focused on discovering users’ needs and envisioning a better future. We call it the Loop. The Loop is a continuous cycle of observing, reflecting and making”. And here’s what the so-called Loop is said to include: 

  • Observe to see what others look past. Take it all in with open eyes and ears to find out what’s important to your users and learn how your ideas hold up to their expectations.
  • Reflect to synthesize what you and your teammates have learned, articulate a point of view and come up with a plan.
  • Give abstract ideas a concrete form and turn intent into reality.

Here are the five benefits when you implement IBM Design Thinking. Of course, these won’t apply to every situation - they merely serve to illustrate this specific context so that you can get a general understanding of the process that takes place. 

1) 75% decreased time for initial designs and alignment;

2) 33% decreased development and testing costs;

3) 2x much faster time to market;

4) 38% boost in portfolio profitability;

5) 50% reduction in design shortcomings.

4) Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford 

One of the best examples of practical usage of design thinking is probably the healthcare system. This matters because healthcare is such a sensitive topic for all of us. Health is one of the most important things in life and also where we are most heavily dependent upon others (that is, governments, health insurance policies, medical staff, and doctors). 

So, this example specifically refers to a two-day design thinking course provided by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. 

The focus was on patient care in the emergency room, however, not strictly the medical care, but rather the overall experience. 

Alpa Vyas, Standorf’s Health Care vice president for patient experience, stated: “We want to know what [the patients’] unmet needs are. Our patients have told us they want us to know them and to understand them. Applying design thinking to health care is an invaluable way for us to do that.”

Through the experiment, it was discovered that a good way to start is by asking patients how they feel, and whether there is something else that the medical staff can do for them. 

Also, they did a whole simulation where they interviewed patients and their families. It was concluded that the simulation added a deep emotional value to the whole project. What’s more, students feel as if they could empathize more with the patients. 

Also, Kinjal Vasavada, a Stanfrod junior student and one of the fourteen students that took part in this course, said that she developed a much deeper appreciation for how change could make progress in medicine.

5) UberEATS

UberEATS’s mission is to make food delivery as effortless as possible. Their service links customers to Uber speed delivery from restaurants in more than 80 cities across the world.

They also help restaurants reach more customers, further develop their businesses, and give people a lot of options when choosing what to eat. 

Keep in mind that each of these 80 cities has its own food culture, different habits, and needs. Also, the physical conditions of the cities greatly differ. For instance, UberEATS employees at New York may find it a challenge to fully understand the needs of the people in Bangkok. 

That’s where design thinking comes in handy. Employees are trying to develop empathy and understand the places their consumers choose. What’s more, they even physically need to go “there”, and fully experience the food culture of a place. 

Namely, they’ve devised the Walkabout Program, which means that each quarter employees visit an UberEATS city and analyze that market in greater detail. They closely monitor the city’s infrastructure, overall transportation, and they even interview their delivery partners, customers, and restaurant workers. These visits help employees gain a deeper understanding of the different customers and markets. 

Then there’s Order shadowing - it enables employees to observe their designs in use. They’re able to follow their partners while delivering, visit restaurants, and even sit in people’s homes while they order their food. This ultimately helps them understand the challenges of the real world, so that they can come up with better solutions in the future. 

Finally, the Fireside chats allow them to hear from their customers directly. They invite delivery partners, consumers, as well as restaurant workers to their offices so that they can openly discuss and elaborate on their experiences with UberEATS. These sessions and meetings prove to be highly effective in connecting with people and understanding them even better. 

Design Thinking Definition 

Design thinking is:

  • thinking outside the box;
  • innovative;
  • practical;
  • useful;
  • purposeful;
  • strategic;
  • creative;
  • focused on the users’ experience; 
  • a powerful thinking tool;
  • meant to provide simpler solutions; 
  • capable of offering proven competitive advantage; 
  • said to give structure to an otherwise “messy” process; 
  • supposed to include people from various backgrounds and allow them to share their opinion; 
  • said to redefine the problem;
  • a cognitive process which encompasses the following within it:
    • content analysis;
    • solution-focused thinking;
    • generating ideas;
    • modelling;
    • prototyping; 
    • sketching;
    • developing solution-based strategies;
    • problem identifying; 
    • modelling;
    • evaluating.

Design thinking isn’t: 

  • always structural and linear, and/or followed by a set of rules;
  • supposed to be boring or daunting - it’s expected to bring out the best ideas out;
  • an individual undertaking (usually it’s collaborative);
  • for those who wish to come up with selfish solutions and ideas; 
  • exclusively available to a certain type of group or aimed at a specific profession; 
  • just a method - rather, it’s a way of thinking for many.

The History of Design Thinking 

The origins of design thinking lie within the development of various creative techniques in the 1950s. Some of the most notable books regarding creativity methods were published in the next decade by Alex Faickney Osborn and William J. J. Gordon. 

Many other books from different fields were published such as those by Morris Asimow (engineering), John Chris Jones (product and systems design), Christopher Alexander (architecture), and L. Bruce Archer (industrial design). 

John E. Arnold was one of the first authors to actually use the term “design thinking”. He identified four different areas of design thinking. In his book Creative Engineering (1959), he wrote:

It is rather interesting to look over the developmental history of any product or family of products and try to classify the changes into one of the four areas ... Your group, too, might have gotten into a rut and is inadvertently doing all of your design thinking in one area and is missing good bets in other areas.

In the 80s, there was an increase in design-centered business management as well as human-centred design. 

The 90s marked the appearance of the first symposium on research in design thinking (1991). The symposium took place at Delft University in the Netherlands. 

During this decade, IDEO was also formed. IDEO is a design and consulting firm that has offices in Germany, England, the USA, China, and Japan, but it was founded back in 1991 in Palo Alto, California. The company uses design thinking in designing environments, digital experiences, products, services, and so on. 

Hence, the company is said to handle a wide range of disciplines including: 

  • Consumer Goods & Services Education;
  • Energy;
  • Financial Services;
  • Food & Beverage Government;
  • Health & Wellness Industrial Goods & Services Media;
  • Medical Products & Services Non-Profit;
  • Retail & Hospitality;
  • Toys & Games Transportation & Mobility.

In the 2000s, there was a surging interest in design thinking. As design thinking was considered a great addition to any business venture, increasing numbers of companies sought to develop it. Books by writers such as Richard Florida, Daniel Pink, Roger Martin, Tim Brown, Thomas Lockwood, and Vjay Kumar marked this period. 

Finally, design thinking has made magnificent progress throughout the years and at this point we need to acknowledge that it develops organically, especially in this day and age.

Why Is Design Thinking Important? 

Design thinking matters because not only does it benefit entire organizations, companies, and institutions, but it has positive effects on individuals. It’s a great catalyst for societal evolution, change, and growth. This is so because it encourages people to learn how to:

  • empathize with others;
  • become better decision makers;
  • understand others’ wishes and preferences and utilize them;
  • appreciate the end users and give them what they want;
  • consider and reevaluate their previous choices in order to come up with better strategies for the future

The design thinking process is also significant because it teaches people to be patient and understand that there are no changes overnight - things need to be researched and analyzed first, and applied to practice afterwards. It also shows us why it matters to never stop questioning things, get to the core of the issue, make assumptions and then try to confirm them, and so on. In other words, design thinking matters because it helps us develop a research mindset and embrace our critical thinking skills.

What’s more, design thinking can boost your productivity and encourage new perspectives and fresh approaches to solving problems. It helps start constructive dialogues and fruitful interactions, with the intention of increasing the value of a product or service. 

Design thinking also teaches people to respect others’ opinions. For instance, companies launching new products are more open to criticism, as they’re keen to hear customers’ feedback. This also teaches people to be bolder in their choices and embrace changes when the need for them arises. In turn, this means employees should be more flexible and spontaneous, as each product launch comes with its own set of challenges and requirements. 

To sum up, design thinking comes with a plethora of benefits. Each design thinking activity can be an invaluable learning experience for those who partake in it. All in all, we can say that design thinking helps you grow as an entrepreneur by engaging you in a process that’s professional and diligent. 

How To Develop Design Thinking? 

Developing design thinking skills requires a clear understanding of the design thinking process to begin with. So, it’s always a good idea to read a lot about design thinking and its stages, to learn about other people’s experiences with it, and to find some success stories that can motivate you.

Of course, theory is just the beginning because design thinking is a practical process after all. 

After familiarizing yourself with the theory, you need to work on your empathy. This is one of the crucial requirements for being a good design thinker - being able to understand the user’s point of view is the first step of design thinking.

That said, customer feedback not only helps you improve your design thinking “output” (whatever it is you’ve created), but it also encourages you to be a good listener, and recognize your flaws. Of course, it also demonstrates everything you’ve done well. 

In other words, developing your soft skills help you develop your design thinking skills, too. 

Another important aspect to developing design thinking is learning to become a good observer - getting to know your surroundings, being on the lookout for the next story, analyzing people’s behaviors and comments, and monitoring people’s close interactions.

Also, don’t forget that developing your creative power is an important factor, too. Design thinking requires innovation, solving techniques, strategizing, etc., in order to achieve your desired goals.

At its best, Design thinking can help you maximize your learning potential with each new experience, so the more open you allow yourself to be, the more beneficial these experiences can be.

Examples of Design Thinking in Everyday Life 


What’s the value of design thinking in business corporations? To start with, the need for design thinking in business contexts was borne out of the corporations’ lack of creativity and fresh ideas. 

In essence, design thinking is used to satisfy business goals and purposes by ensuring the users’ satisfaction, too. So it’s about achieving mutual benefits. 

Design thinking minimizes the risk of launching a product/service that:

  • your clients won’t accept; 
  • Includes a new feature they won’t be interested in; 
  • will result in negative feedback.

It also helps you avoid ideas that have no functionality or use-value. 

Design thinking in business also challenges the communication between customers and companies by taking it on a whole new level because:

  1. It allows for a greater level of interconnectedness;
  2. It makes customers feel valued and appreciated.

In other words, design thinking helps organizations and companies be more constructive and innovative. Plus, it allows businesses to gain an advantage over their competitors, and this has become more and more evident.

One of the best ways for companies to know whether their design thinking strategies are working is analyzing their return on investment (ROI). All in all, design thinking is forward-thinking, as it enables businesses to make significant progress and satisfy their clients’ needs more than before.

That said, design thinking doesn’t guarantee anything - life happens, things can go wrong, and companies may go bankrupt. But what it does guarantee is more engaged employees, better data gathering, and greater authenticity.

How to approach this? 

  • Do your products/services add value to other people’s lives? How? Don Norman put it brilliantly: “It is not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and, yes, beauty to people’s lives.” 
  • Even if they do - is there room to make them even better? Come up with a few suggestions and see whether they sound feasible. 
  • If you’re developing a new product/service, how will it compete on the market? How would you rate its current functionality/design? And more importantly, how objective can you really be?
  • How will your new product/service fit in in your previous product/service portfolio? Is there any correlation between your previous launches or not?
  • Does your new product/service clearly communicate your value as a company? Will it also attract customers that resonate with your brand’s mission? What would be your customers’ initial reaction about the product/service? And most importantly, will it truly assist them in the way it’s supposed to?
  • How have you used design thinking before (if at all)? If you have, what have you learned from applying it?
  • When you prepare your next business project, how willing are you to put yourself in your clients’ shoes?
  • If you knew some of your competitors use design thinking, would that affect the way you’re using it (or if you’re not using it at all, would it prompt you to try it, too)?
  • What’s the best part about launching a new product/service? Also, what’s the most challenging part of it?
  • What’s the best client feedback you’ve ever got? What’s the worst one? How did you react?
  • What are the advantages of working in a team? What are the disadvantages? Also, what do you think about the same tasks being always delegated to the same group of people? Does that bring about more efficient results, as they already know what they’re doing, or does it contribute to lack of creativity and freshness?


Seeing design thinking as part of any educational system shouldn't come as a surprise. In fact, we should only wonder why it wasn’t incorporated earlier. 

That said, it’s not just about trying to incorporate it - it’s about knowing how to do so properly and understanding why. 

First of all, design thinking can open the educators’ eyes to a new perspective; it makes the connection with the pupils/students much more personal; and it allows them to see current shortcomings in education that should be surpassed. 

It also allows educators to handle all the challenges they’re faced with on a daily basis without leaving them frustrated or hopeless. In fact, design thinking can be beneficial for both groups - it will definitely strengthen the relationship between the educator and the educatee. 

Design thinking is geared toward helping pupils/students have the best educational experience possible. It’s supposed to suit their needs, answer confusing questions, and make them feel as though they’re getting a valuable experience. Sadly, that’s not the case for many educatees across the world.

The mission of design thinking is to change that. And the best thing is that it can be done with first graders, but also with PhD students. Of course, the approach will vary, but the purpose is the same: to provide a more enjoyable schooling experience.

You can start with simple things - such as changing the space in the learning environment. According to IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit:

The physical environment of the classroom sends a big signal about how you want your students to behave. Right now, we tend to think of our classroom spaces as standard … kids in rows, sitting in desks. By rethinking the design of our spaces we can send new messages to our students about how they should feel and interact with the classroom.

Finally, remember that each classroom and each amphitheatre in the world is facing more or less the same issues, the same challenges, and the same problems which means they all require new strategies and new approaches. Design thinking just happens to be one of them.

Teaching design thinking 

Apart from including design thinking in your teaching practices in order to achieve better performance and make your educatees happier, there are educators out there who actually get to teach design thinking. 

This helps encourage critical thinking, creativity, and practical skills which most educational systems don’t do well. It’s truly a refreshing task within every classroom, as it comes only with benefits. If anything, they’ll only show you the downsides of how you used to do things previously. 

Now, let’s take a look at an example of design thinking being taught. At a teaching conference in Virginia, during a design thinking session, two middle school teachers explained how they developed an urban-design city project and asked students to develop a hypothetical town while taking into account factors such as geography, population, financial resources, and the environment.

Here’s what this example was supposed to teach students:

design thinking starts with empathy. When designing anything meant to be used by another person—whether that’s a lesson, curriculum, classroom layout, or an imaginary city—the designer must understand what that person (an “end-user,” in design lingo) needs. In the case of the urban-design project, for example, the students can’t just design a pretty building; they must think about the needs of the people who will live there, as well as the available resources, the budget, and the impact that building will have on the surrounding landscape. “The design-thinking philosophy requires the designer to put his or her ego to the side and seek to meet the unmet needs, both rational and emotional, of the user.

Interestingly enough, some of the other teachers said they didn’t fully understand the design thinking concept. They were keen to learn more about it though, and were able to comprehend it way better after receiving further explanations and examples.

This shows you just how much potential design thinking has as a concept - it not only helps us educate students in a different, more practical manner, but it improves our own skills and knowledge too.

How to approach this? 

  • If it were up to you, what would you change in the education sector? Where would you start? What do you consider to be a priority?
  • What exactly is the role of an educator? Should it undergo some changes?
  • Do you feel the way students/pupils are currently taught prepares them for real life?
  • How can we encourage students to be more emphatic toward one another?
  • If two students get into an argument during class, how should the educator approach this? Also, if an educator is informed there’s been a fight among students outside of school hours, should they bring it up when they see the students?
  • How would you include design thinking in education? Or if you’ve already included it, what results did you get?
  • What does the perfect learning environment look like?
  • Do you think there’s a strong focus on individual knowledge in schools, or there’s a fine balance between individual work and group projects? What would more focus on unity bring in the classroom?. As Tim Brown put it: “It’s not ‘us versus them’ or even ‘us on behalf of them.’ For a design thinker it has to be ‘us with them’”.
  • Do you think standardized testing is the best way to assess students/pupils? What other methods would you personally opt for? Or if you've already tried some of them, what results did they bring?
  • How can educational institutions be a safer and more comfortable place so that pupils/students feel better about being themselves?
  • What subjects are useful for the students’/pupils’ future? Should they be modified in any way? If yes, how? Also, are there any additional subjects that should be taught at school?
  • What can educators learn from their educatees?
  • What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to teaching in today’s society? 
  • Should students/pupils be asked to also grade their educators? Why? Why not? Do you think educatees can be objective when grading their educators?
  • If you were a student, would you enjoy your own classes? Would you make some changes?
  • Do you think educators should join forces and collaborate on issues together or each one should look after their own classroom?
  • What should the next decades bring to education? What changes need to come?


An individual’s satisfaction with the society they live in is heavily reliant upon a good healthcare system. This is so because most of the time, we can’t solve health-related issues on our own - we need professional help. The help you get and the overall experience you go through will vary - from country to country; from doctor to doctor; from hospital to hospital. 

That said, it will also vary on whether those in charge are willing to improve healthcare institutions and make them a more enjoyable experience for patients.

Design thinking is said to drive innovation in healthcare. There’s a need for hospital service standards, better doctor-patient rapport, overall patient treatment, training and onboarding medical stuff, and so on. In other words, the general healthcare blueprint needs to be re-evaluated.

Now, let’s take a look at an actual example. Danielle Schlosser, a Principal Research Scientist at Verily Life Sciences, wanted to change the approach to schizophrenia treatment

She consulted Silvia Vergani, an IDEO Design Researcher, and when Silvia conducted her first interview with a schizophrenia patient, Danielle came to the following conclusion: “She didn’t use clinical terms during the interview and she connected so well with the patient, putting him at ease and getting him to open up and express himself. I realized that the providers in the clinical system itself are part of the problem because I was not seeing my patient as a person first. This was tough for me to admit to myself.”

As a result of this collaboration, Prime was born - an app that helps individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia engage with others. The purpose behind the app is to try to lessen the difficulties of living with schizophrenia and alleviate symptoms by offering access to mental health coaches in order for patients to improve their overall quality of life. 

All in all, this example shows us that healthcare is moving in a more humanized direction. Rather than perceiving people as patients and looking at them as simply part of their everyday routine, design thinking will encourage medical staff to perceive them as humans first.

How to approach this?

  • What’s missing in your healthcare system as you know it? In other words, how can hospitals design a better patient-centered experience?
  • What research would you conduct to understand a patient's feedback and overall experiences? Would you consider the traditional surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, and observations, or you’d come up with something new and different?
  • Going to a hospital is never a pleasant experience, but how can you make it more comfortable than it is at the moment?
  • Why and when does a healthcare system become ineffective?
  • If you’re practising medicine, have you ever used design thinking in your work? How happy were you with the results? Would you try it again? If you haven’t, would you be willing to?
  • What’s the best way to measure patient satisfaction?
  • Have you ever dealt with a patient who was feeling uncomfortable? How did you handle the situation? How did the patient feel toward the end of your meeting? What did this experience teach you?
  • If you haven’t had such an experience, can you hypothetically think about what you would’ve done and how you would’ve reacted? 
  • When it comes to settling steep medical bills, what do you think are some nice ways to handle this issue with your patients? Or perhaps you feel this should be discussed with the patients’ family members?
  • How can you ask your patients better questions? What kind of approach can you take?
  • If a patient with chronic conditions doesn’t make it to their appointments, what do you do?
  • How can you make sure patients look after their health more diligently?
  • What criteria should patients stick to when they choose a medical provider?
  • How should doctors deliver serious diagnoses to their patients? Where’s the line between being professional and simply being human?

Daily Routine 

So far we’ve discussed specific, professional contexts where design thinking can be applied. That said, we believe it can be used in our daily lives too.

Now, why would someone use something so complicated in their everyday life, you may ask? There’s a preconceived notion that design thinking simply can’t be applied to small areas of our lives. That could not be further from the truth.

What’s more, design thinking doesn’t have to be so complicated or daunting. It’s simply meant to make us aware of how we can assist others, i.e. how we can redesign something (an approach, a product, a space) to make their experience better.

So, how can you really make design thinking a part of your everyday life?

For starters, you can help friends solve their problems, challenge common assumptions, fight against arbitrary and harmful societal norms, understand the barriers preventing you from achieving success, and so on.

If you want to take a look at an actual example, we highly recommend that you check out this article, as it’s based on a design thinking workshop that shows you practical ways to incorporate design thinking into your daily routine.

How to approach this? 

  • How committed are you to helping others in general? What’s your motivation?
  • Do you think about what other people expect from you? Do you think you live up to their expectations? If not, how does that make you feel about yourself?
  • How can you become better at helping others?
  • How can you have a more objective approach when you’re helping others?
  • What kind of thinking patterns would help you to come up with better ideas? Remember, as Albert Einstein said: “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.
  • Instead of getting discouraged by your obstacles, think about what you can learn from them. Why are they here? What do they show you? How can you overcome them? Do you need help? Is there someone else you may wish to discuss this with?
  • Does empathizing with others come easily to you? Can you think of an example where you struggled to empathize with another person? What happened? What was the reason behind it? Has it happened again?
  • Have you ever had your ideas rejected? How did that make you feel?
  • In life in general, what decisions do you make the fastest? And vice versa - what takes you the longest to decide on? Why?
  • What are some life-changing decisions that may benefit from design thinking? Make a list and think about it.
  • How can you make the process of thinking more fun? Do you have any methods that help you be a better thinker/decision maker?
  • Have you ever regretted making some decisions? Do you agree with the following quote: “It is often said that a wrong decision taken at the right time is better than a right decision taken at the wrong time” (Pearl Zhu)?
  • Before you give others suggestions, do you consider whether they align with your core values or not? And if you don’t think about this - will you be willing to do so from now on?
  • Overall, do you find design thinking to be a useful tool in everyday life? Or do you still think that it’s only for professional contexts and situations?

Famous Quotes About Design Thinking

“The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing – building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help.” 

- David Kelley

“A good idea is something that does not solve just one single problem, but rather can solve multiple problems at once.” 

- Shigeru Miyamoto

“It’s your inner truth. If you’re doing your best work and you think it’s work that helps other people, who can tear you down?”  

- Brit Morin

“The ‘Design Thinking’ label is not a myth. It is a description of the application of a well-tried design process to new challenges and opportunities, used by people from both design and non-design backgrounds. I welcome the recognition of the term and hope that its use continues to expand and be more universally understood, so that eventually every leader knows how to use design and design thinking for innovation and better results.”

- Bill Moggridge

“The process is iterative and expansive. Designers resist the temptation to jump immediately to a solution to the stated problem. Instead, they first spend time determining what the basic, fundamental (root) issue is that needs to be addressed. They don't try to search for a solution until they have determined the real problem, and even then, instead of solving that problem, they stop to consider a wide range of potential solutions. Only then will they finally converge upon their proposal. This process is called ‘Design Thinking.’”

- Don Norman 

“Entrepreneur, design thinking is the ability to create, portray and deliver tomorrow’s distinction, today.”

- Onyi Anyado

“It is about them and for them. The closer the end-users’ needs are analyzed and answered, the more successful the adoption or purchase of a solution. You iterate until you get it right from a customer perspective. This is the power of HCD.”

- Olivier Delarue

“Every self-respecting designer should do something. Come up with new ideas, dust down old ideas and place them in a new context. Silence the cynics. Let the politicians know that wheeling and dealing achieves little. Prove that actions speak louder than words. Demonstrate the power of design. Designers can do more than make things pretty. Design is more than perfume, aesthetics and trends.”

- Richard van der Laken

“User-centered design means understanding what your users need, how they think, and how they behave – and incorporating that understanding into every aspect of your process.” 

- Jesse James Garrett

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are the stages of the design thinking process? 

Design thinking is a five-step process (methodology) meant to help you understand people’s needs and the overall problems, so that you can then take the necessary action.

Remember, design thinking takes time. You don’t need to master all the steps right away or expect to be comfortable with all of them from the start. Begin by understanding them before proceeding to apply them in practice. 

That said, it’s important to understand that design thinking isn’t linear. You can jump between the stages, go back to previous ones to make changes, and then move forward again. In other words, design thinking is far from a linear process, and that’s what makes it so fun. 

And now, onto the stages!

Stage 1: Empathize 

The first stage of the design thinking process is empathizing. This is probably one of the most meaningful steps because it allows you to develop emotional awareness regarding the problem/issue you’re trying to address.

In other words, it enables you to connect with people and explore their perspectives, situations, and opinions, so that you can have a clearer perspective of what’s needed. 

We explore this step in the next question more, where we discuss why design thinking requires empathy to start with.

Stage 2: Define

During the Define stage, you need to put information together, gather data and content, and make sense of it all. You analyze your observations, your notes, or whatever it is you’ve collected in the previous stage.

Do you notice any common patterns? Are there any similarities in your data? How can you combine them better? Are there any challenges?

The Define stage also calls for developing a proper problem statement with the end-user in mind (that is, the individual(s) you’re trying to help).

Also, avoid framing the statement in the following manner: “We need to inform teenagers about the importance of safe sex”. You don’t need to sound as though you’re representing your company and/or an organization - you need to sound as though you’re placing the others in focus. So, something along the lines of “Teenagers are in need of proper sex education so they can understand why they should pratice safe sex”.

Stage 3. Ideate 

The third stage of the design thinking process refers to generating ideas. In other words, it revolves around ideation.

By now, you should know what your plan is based on what the people you’re trying to help need. It’s time to come up with options for applicable solutions.

You’re asked to think outside the box (and honestly with design thinking it can’t be otherwise, anyway); explore new angles and perspectives; look at the whole picture. This stage asks for maximum creativity.

During this stage, it’s advisable to go back to your problem-solving statement - you want to make sure you stay on track at all times.

Stage 4. Prototype 

This stage includes you turning your ideas from the previous stage into actual prototypes. You’re supposed to create something tangible, applicable - something that can be helpful to others. 

For instance, if you’re working on a product, you're expected to create a prototype of that product. In essence, it’s supposed to be a scaled-down version of the product you’re planning.

Stage 5. Test

The fifth stage is the testing stage. This is the final stage - here you get to test your prototypes on real people. The idea is to see how the prototypes are received, what shortcomings they may reveal, how others react to them, and so on.

In other words, this stage allows you to see how what you’ve managed to do, and how others relate to it (or don’t). The testing phrase will bring up any flaws, and/or details you may have forgotten to include in the previous stages. 

That’s why the results that this stage will bring may require you to revisit the previous stages and make some changes. This is a good thing though - the more feedback you get and the more detailed you are in the testing stage, the more you can fine-tune the end result.

Why does design thinking require empathy?

Empathy is an important aspect of the design thinking process because the whole process is geared toward helping others, that is, helping the end user. As Donald A. Norman, the man who coined the term user experience design, has said, “we must design for the way people behave, not for how we would wish them to behave.”

In other words, health care professionals use design thinking to help their patients, the food industry uses it to assist its customers, educators strive to help students and pupils, businesspersons try to understand their clients’ needs.

Ultimately, design thinking is devised to assist humans. That’s why empathy is crucial, because if we don’t understand other people and their needs, it doesn’t matter if we are otherwise great designers.

Through empathy, we can truly put ourselves in others’ shoes, understanding how they feel and why they feel that way. We can comprehend their thoughts about a specific condition, problem, product, situation, and so on.

Empathy helps us understand what works for people, and what doesn’t. It sheds light upon the changes we need to make, but also reveals what already works perfectly.

By using empathy, we’re brought closer to the problems people face, but also to the potential solutions that may assist them in the long run.

Empathize methods

Here are some useful tips on how to develop empathy:

  • Assume a beginner’s mindset;
  • Ask What-How-Why;
  • Ask the 5 why’s (asking Why? five times about each specific problem to get to the root cause of a problem);
  • Conduct interviews with empathy;
  • Build empathy with analogies;
  • Use photo and video user-based studies;
  • Use personal photo and video journals;
  • Engage with extreme users;
  • Story share-and-capture;
  • Bodystorm;
  • Create journey maps.

Empathy vs. sympathy vs. compassion

A word often confused with empathy is sympathy. And this happens much more often than you might think. Compassion is used interchangeably too. 

Let’s see what the dictionary has to say first. 

According to Cambridge Dictionary, empathy is “the ability to share someone else's feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person's situation”. 

Sympathy is defined as “(an expression of) understanding and care for someone else's suffering”.

And finally, compassion is “a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them”.

And while we understand these are slight differences, we wanted to make sure we explained what empathy’s main focus is, and how it differs from sympathy and compassion. 

On the whole, empathy means you’re able to feel what the other person is feeling; sympathy means you can understand what they’re feeling; and compassion means there’s a willingness to help relieve the other person’s pain. 

Closing remarks

Empathy is an amazing skill and emotion to master in general in life, and not just for design thinking and other similar processes. It really brings us closer to people, and allows us to not only understand them better, but learn new things about ourselves too. 

All in all, empathy is

a practice that “involves scanning large sets of data” while “sorting out what’s noise and what’s essential information.” Instead of looking at empathy as a cool concept but one that’s difficult to implement, view empathy as muscle that can be trained with targeted actions and a bit of practice.

What are some useful online tools for design thinking? 

Design thinking isn’t something you need to do fully on your own. In fact, there are amazing online tools out there that can help you out. 

Here are some of them for each stage:

Of course, you don’t need to use all of them (you don’t need to use any for that matter). That said, you may find some useful or you may simply allow yourself to experiment and see whether they add value to your design thinking practice.

For instance, a tool such as Zoom allows you to connect with people without having to physically meet up with them. Not only does this save you time, but it also allows for different groups of people to meet up much more effectively.

Typeform is yet another great tool - it allows you to make surveys, create forms and questionnaires that look refreshing. Its user-friendly interface is a nice addition.

POP is a tool that helps you turn your sketches into animations. All you need to do is take snaps of your sketches and then the app will merge them into an interactive prototype. You can also freely share your prototypes with users, and also get their feedback.

Mural and Miro are two wonderful tools that allow you to create real time whiteboards, brainstorm and structure your design, and engage in free hand drawing. Overall, both of them provide users with a visual platform for easier collaboration.

Have you tried any of these tools? If not, now that you know more about some of them, why don’t you?

Suggestions for Further Reading 

If you want to deepen your understanding about the design thinking process, here are some books to get you started:

  1. Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, by Tim Brown 
  1. This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases, by Jakob Schneider and Marc Sticdorn 
  1. The Design Thinking Toolbox: A Guide to Mastering the Most Popular and Valuable Innovation Methods, by Larry Leifer, Patrick Link, and Michael Lewrick
  1. The Design Thinking Life Playbook: Empower Yourself, Embrace Change, and Visualize a Joyful Life, by Larry Leifer, Jean-Paul Thommen, and Michael Lewrick
  1. The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage, by Roger L. Martin
  1. HBR's 10 Must Reads on Design Thinking (with featured article "Design Thinking" By Tim Brown), by Tim Brown, Clayton M. Christensen, Indra Nooyi, and Vijay Govindarajan
  1. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Day, by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz
  1. Design Thinking: Integrating Innovation, Customer Experience, and Brand Value, by Thomas Lockwood
  1. Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation: What They Can't Teach You at Business or Design School, by Idris Mootee
  1. Health Design Thinking: Creating Products and Services for Better Health, by Ellen Lupton and Bon Ku
  1. Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want (The Strategyzer Series), by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Gregory Bernarda, and Alan Smith 
  1. Design Thinking for Training and Development: Creating Learning Journeys That Get Results, by Laura Fletcher and Sharon Boller

Final Thoughts 

All in all, design thinking is a process of innovation which has its main focus on the end users. It (re)defines problems, takes into account new perspectives, and handles challenges in order to provide authenticity and fresh concepts. 

Dr. Prabhjot Singh said that “we spend a lot of time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.”

We’re happy to share that while we spent a lot of time preparing our design thinking course, we thought even more about those who’ll be joining us. 

We cover:

  • how to think about problems and how to observe others;
  • developing a persona; 
  • how to effectively conduct interviews; 
  • writing a problem statement; 
  • challenging assumptions; 
  • storyboarding and journey mapping; 
  • co-creation workshops; 
  • the four categories method, and so on. 

Care to check it out?