Design Thinking

Design thinking is an orientation toward learning that encompasses active problem-solving and believing in one’s ability to create impactful change. One of the most important mindsets of design thinking is a bias towards action.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

Design thinking is a process of human-centered innovation, and empathy is its foundation. To empathize, you observe; you view users and their behavior in the context of their lives. You engage; you interact with and interview users through both scheduled and short encounters. You immerse; you put yourself into someone else’s shoes and experience what they experience. As a human-centered designer you need to understand the people for whom you are designing. The problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own – they are those of particular users; in order to design for your users, you must build empathy for who they are and what is important to them.

However limited emphasis should be placed on the so-called “voice of the customer,” since this is rarely a good source of insight. Simon Rucker articulates this very well in his article "How Good Designers Think" in the Harvard Business Review, where he writes:

“Good designers aim to move beyond what you get from simply asking consumers what they need and want. First of all because they understand that most people when asked don’t say what they mean or mean what they say, but also because people often don’t know. Good designers want to unearth what consumers can’t tell them”

The first secret of design in 'noticing'

As human beings, we get used to "the way things are" really fast. But for designers, the way things are is an opportunity ... Could things be better? How? In this funny, breezy talk, the man behind the iPod and the Nest thermostat shares some of his tips for noticing -- and driving -- change.

Step 2: Brainstorm and Design


Through rapid sketching activities, the team focuses on getting as many ideas (good and bad) down on paper as quickly as possible. Activities such as sketching can best be described as traversing down a decision tree. This is the essence of abductive thinking—a generative exercise of exploring what could be, as opposed to what is. With each new design decision explored, new constraints are introduced and new opportunities arise. Sketching by its nature is fast, transient, and has a tempo that prevents us from becoming too attached to a particular solution


Participants learn to sell their ideas, accept change, and negotiate positions to arrive at the strongest set of potential solutions worthy of further exploration and iteration. As cognitive psychologist Herbert Simon says, “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” It is through the articulation of design concepts in the presentation phase that participants argue for what the preferred state is, and potentially how to get there. As Richard Buchanan says, “Products are vivid arguments about how we as humans, situated in social context, should lead our lives.”


Highlight strong ideas worthy of further expansion while discarding weaker ideas in a safe, friendly environment. The aim of critique is to provide actionable and positive counterarguments to those being made in the sketches

  1. Who: Does the sketch solve a problem for the intended audience? Does the solution speak to the customer or does it speak to the designer’s ego?
  2. How: How does the concept solve for the problem and, more importantly, how can that solution be simplified?
  3. What: What is the argument being made by the solution and is it effective in achieving its goal? In other words, is it a compelling argument?
  4. Why: When sketching potential solutions, each participant will choose different angles of attack based on his own stance (or prejudices). Understanding that stance—the focus of attention or, in essence, the Why something is important to solve—is as important as the What

The specific insights from critique will provide the participants with an increased understanding of the assumptions and biases of fellow participants. The criticism will feed back into design in the iteration phase, specifically by pointing to inconsistencies between the solution being presented and the context of customer use and business constraints. Finally, the criticism will give the participant feedback for concepts that may not be fully fleshed out. Again Ideate - extract, steal, recombine, and transform until only one or two solid concepts survive.

Step 3: Build - Test - Evaluate and Redesign

When something fails, encourage kids to try again. Mistakes are opportunities for learning. In fact, the Design Thinking motto is, “Fail fast—succeed sooner.

Asking questions like

  1. What have you tried?
  2. How did it work?
  3. Why do you think it didn’t work?
  4. What else could you do?
  5. Does your design meet the criteria for success?
  6. What is the hardest problem to solve as you build your project?
  7. Why do you have to do something a few times before it works the way you want?