Definition – What is Design Thinking?

The idea of design thinking is not at all new. People have been practicing design through the ages, from man-made wonders to automotive design, road systems, city layouts, and the most common and popular products.

When the principles of design are applied strategically with the innovation of products, brands have seen the success of products improve dramatically. Design thinking is one of the driving forces behind companies like Apple, Coca-Cola and Nike.

The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it.Steve Jobs

Those brands, and many others, have applied design thinking to create a next-level wow factor that makes their products far more desirable to a target audience.

It’s not just about the products, though. Design thinking is applicable how companies lead, manage and innovate in their verticals. It can be applied to everything from systems and procedures to enhanced process improvement and the individual user experienced developed by SaaS model companies.

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What is Design Thinking

Design thinking has earned a place in the strategic development of organizations. It’s a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems or find solutions for the company or customers. This kind of mindset isn’t focused on problems, but instead of action-item solutions. It’s based in logic, intuition, systemic reasoning from data, and the exploration of possibilities driven by imaginative thinking.

It’s best described as a discipline that aims to match the needs of people or a company with what is feasible through current technology.

According to , The design-thinkingideology asserts that a hands-on, user-centric approach to problem solving can lead to innovation, and innovation can lead to differentiation and a competitive advantage. This hands-on, user-centric approach is defined by the design-thinkingprocess and comprises 6 distinct phases, as defined and illustrated below

design thinking 101 graphic

The 3-part process of design thinking moves from Understanding, to Exploration and Materialization. Within that process there are 6 key elements that make up design thinking.

The 6 Key Elements of Design Thinking


This step involves conducting research so you understand what customers do, how they feel, how they think and more. If your goal were to use design thinking to improve something like your onboarding process, observing your customers and empathizing with their experience will help you make the necessary improvements.


The definition phase brings all of your data and observation together, allowing you to pick out their largest pain points. This highlights the biggest opportunities for improvement going forward.


Once you’ve collected the needs of your customers and defined opportunities, bring your team together to being brainstorming every idea under the sun for meeting their needs. Ideation sessions should be given complete freedom in creativity. No idea is a bad one, as they can give birth to other ideas.


In the prototype phase, you want to narrow down the ideas from the previous phase and prioritize the ones that can bring the most value to your customers without taking too long (or much cost) to finalize. The goal here is to determine which ideas are likely to work and which will not when you choose to launch. It’s about weighing impact vs feasibility.


During the testing phase you’re determining if your solution is meeting the needs of users. The test should be done using real customers to gauge their reactions. If it’s a software interface, you can use services like to gain feedback while actual people utilize your platform.


Finally, you can put the vision into effect. Design thinking is important, but ideas don’t do your business or your customers any good unless they’re executed. Think of this part of design thinking as “design doing.”

The Benefit of Design Thinking

Design thinking takes the customer experience to heart while trying to innovate for the brand. Without it, you’ll likely come up short in delivering what your customers need. Simply put, a terrific interface that solves the wrong problem is destined to fail.

Design thinking provides a number of advantages:

  • It targets real, not imaginary, user needs based on data you’ve collected. This guarantees a satisfactory experience for the customer every time.
  • Because it brings in the majority of teams, it leverages the collective expertise of your company. This makes everyone feel valued, and creates more universal buy in.
  • With exploring multiple avenues in search of a solution, you often end up with a variety of options to tackle problems and opportunities. This is the heart of innovation.

One of the greatest advantages about design thinking is that it’s infinitely scalable. The larger the organization, the more difficult it can be to innovate without taking a strategic approach. Now, with design thinking, companies previously unable struggling to maintain a growth and customer focused mentality now have a guide to increase their chances of success.

Any journey is much simpler with a roadmap.

Design thinking is simplistic enough to work for companies of any size, at any level, as long as you’re willing to take the time to collect data and move through the appropriate steps.

A Focus on Innovation

Innovation can be an uncertain road for companies, and a risk they might not normally be willing to take. But without innovation it can be difficult to grow. Design thinking minimizes that uncertainty by leaning on users or customers to help identify the areas where innovation are most likely to benefit your organization.

According to CreativityAtWork, human-centered innovation begins with developing an understanding of customers’ or users’ unmet or unarticulated needs. “The most secure source of new ideas that have true competitive advantage, and hence, higher margins, is customers’ unarticulated needs,” says Jeanne Liedtka (Batten Briefings 2015), “Customer intimacy—a deep knowledge of customers and their problems—helps to uncover those needs.”


Regardless of whether your business sells a product like Coke or Nike, or a service like Salesforce or Hubspot, everything is based around the experience. Because of the innovation of many organizations like those, customers have come to expect more out of the products, services, and relationships with companies. They expect deeper, more-rich experiences.

Design thinking is the best way to approach the development of new solutions to enhance those experiences, identify customer-centric opportunities, and implement those that are most feasible and effective.

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About the author - Amit Kothari

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