design thinking solving problems

Unlike most professionals, UX designers will always have an evolving description of their job position. This disparity arises not because designers inherently have differing beliefs about what UX design encompasses, but it’s because UX design can be used for various things.

If you ask a UX designer to explain what they do, you will certainly hear repetitive buzzwords such as user research, usability testing, A/B testing, prototyping, iteration, and mapping, etc.). However, there is one uniform theme underlying the heart of every proficient user experience designer’s work that doesn’t always make it into the quick job description, which is solving complex problems with the end-user in mind.

That complex problem solving is what we are going to talk about today. In this guide, you will understand: 

  • What is design thinking? 
  • How can design thinking help you?
  • How to apply design thinking?

What is design thinking?

Design Thinking is completely focused on offering solutions for the complex problems in a highly customer-centric approach. By using a designer’s mindset, one can reform the way organizations used to develop products, services, and strategies by bringing innovation with the human point, technologically and economic feasibility on one plate. It amplifies the horizons for the people who are not even related to the designing, as they turn up using the creative tools to act on a wide range of challenges, design thinking has six steps:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test
  6. Implement

Design thinking is not a guide to be followed intensively for it to work. It is more of a regular guide for professionals to liberally follow and refer to when solving complex problems.

It is a process that when done correctly, has many iterative steps. Within those steps encourages failure as an instrument for learning.

Read also: Design thinking for startups: why it’s critical

How can design thinking help you?

You might not do design per se but here’s a piece of good news for you! Design thinking processes can be applied to a variety of situations. Let’s take marketing as an example. Suppose you are attempting to market a new product and you have a good sense of your target audience but aren’t sure how to reach them. The best way is to get inside their minds. You want to empathize with them, learn who they are, what they want, what they do, and consequently, you’ll get ideas about how to reach them. That’s the start of design thinking.

After defining your target audience, you want to start by exploring different approaches to reach them. Once you determine your most successful ideas, test them. These tests may produce great results or results that are less than satisfactory; however, you will be able to learn from them and use them in your next tests. 

By now, you would have found an effective way to reach your target audience through design thinking. The best part is that you will continually be able to accustom to changes in your target audience, the technology and mediums you use to reach them, and other unforeseeable factors thrown your way. Design thinking boosts education through failure, constant iteration, and adaptation.

Read also: Top 10 reasons to join Stanford Executive Education Design Thinking Program

Steps of design thinking process

Now that we know what design thinking is and why it can be useful for us, let’s talk about how to apply the steps of the design thinking process. 

Part 1: Understand

The most effective way to understand what your users are experiencing as they use your product is to try to get inside their minds. The most important thing to remember here is that you have to pretend as if you do not know what the problem at hand is. The only way to truly understand the problem you are trying to solve is to speak to the people who are experiencing those problems.

Step 1: Empathize

To get inside your audience’s minds, you need to conduct sufficient research. You need to observe what they think, feel, say, and do. The only way to do this is, is to have a conversation with them and release whatever preconceived notions you may be holding about them.

There are various techniques you can use when doing your research. User interviews, task analysis, user observation, and empathy mapping are just a few.

  • User interviews: You can try techniques like the Five Whys to better understand each user’s problem.
  • User observation: Attempt to observe your users in their natural habitats.
  • Task Analysis: Give your user tasks to complete. Ask them to let you know as they complete each task. Measure metrics, such as time, to complete the task and the number of clicks it takes to complete the task (if applicable).
  • Empathy mapping: This helps you learn what your users feel, think, say/do, and see. You will also learn about their pain points and their gain points.

Step 2: Define

After conducting your research, the next step is to compile your research for analysis. The best way to do this is to write down all of your findings: Use sticky notes, whiteboards, or anything at your disposal, so you will be able to look at all of your data at once. After doing this, you may be able to start identifying parallels and similar thoughts. Eight users found this confusing, while only users above the age of 30 enjoyed this section, etc.

These parallel ideas and thoughts will help you define your problem and begin to solve it. You will find that you have a myriad of problems, or that your problem is completely different than what you had assumed. This is ok! Discovering new problems gives you the means to solve them and understand your audience better.

Part 2: Explore

Now that you have defined the problem—or problems—you can move on to the exploration part of the design thinking process. In this stage, you will explore potential solutions.

Step 3: Ideate

This is the time to be creative. During the ideation phase, come up with as many solutions to your problem as possible. Think outside the box! Crazy ideas are good, and the more you have them, the better it is for you. To be open-minded while you are ideating is extremely important. There is no such thing as a foul idea at this stage. Our goal here is to come up with as many solutions as possible. You never know what’s going to work.

One good way to get as many ideas as possible is Crazy Eights. In Crazy Eights, our goal is to come up with solutions as fast as possible. To do this, you may fold a paper up into eight sections and spend eight minutes (one minute per square) sketching and explaining a possible solution. Once the minute is up, you progress to the subsequent idea.

Step 4: Prototype

Once you’ve come up with as many ideas as possible, it is time to focus on taking the most effective solution and building a prototype. Prototyping aims to create a version of your solution that you simply will then be able to test.

Here are some different options for prototypes:

  • Single page (more of a symptom of concept) or multi-page (allows you to finish a full task).
  • Realistic and detailed or hand sketched.
  • Interactive (allows for your user to click through your prototype) or static (your user will have to manually manipulate your prototype to finish a task).

Don’t worry about how in-depth your prototype is. If you’re doing it right, you may be iterating on your first version after testing anyway!

Part 3: Materialize

Now that we’ve built our prototype, you will be able to figure out whether it’s a viable solution. That means testing. And repeating the process.

Step 5: Test

Test your prototype. It’s extremely important to recollect that your failures are even as important as your triumphs. The objective of prototyping and testing is to fail often and fail fast. Take all of the lessons you learned from your failures and implement them in your subsequent solution.

It is important to check small changes, as well as big changes. In the first A/B test on the website at WordStream, their team simply changed the iconography, the copy, and also the color of the buttons for one of the sections on the homepage.

They saw a 68% hike in the Free Trial conversion rate over the original version. It’s also important to notice that this section of the homepage, even after a successful change, no longer exists after further testing. They are constantly adapting to the globe around them and searching for the best solutions, and you should be, too!

Read also: Improving customer experience with Design Thinking

Step 6: Repeat

If your first test was a great success, there’s always a far better solution out there. New problems will always appear.

Design thinking is supposed to be an iterative process. While testing, you may often go back to your research. While prototyping, you will have to do more research to better understand a pain point you’re now experiencing. After testing, you may realize you defined the incorrect problem, and the whole process begins again, only more informed and assured.

Use design thinking to unravel your next problem

The design thinking process isn’t just helpful for UX designers- it is useful for anyone. Building a site, a product, a company, takes time and energy if it is done right. You may fail, but that’s a good thing. Try out the process, learn from your mistakes, hinge on them, and grow as an individual and a company. If you are a professional who is looking out on how to start in the field of design thinking, then look no further as you can start with Stanford Executive Education’s Design Thinking Course in collaboration with Great Learning.



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