Design Thinking

The methodology of Design Thinking

In recent years, the term Design Thinking has been used in a multitude of books, articles, business seminars and even in daily life. The general definition of Design thinking is yet to be established and agreed upon but in 2009, the CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown has described the purpose and application of the concept. 

According to Tim Brown, “Design thinking is 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”. (Brown, 2009) The company IDEO gives a description of the concept as well as tools that can be used in order to “create change through design”. 

Many other practitioners have declared a similar definition but with small differences, such as Thomas Lockwood, former president of the Design Management Institute, who defined the concept of Design Thinking as being a “human-centered innovation process that emphasizes observation, collaboration, fast learning, visualization of ideas, rapid concept prototyping, and concurrent business analysis” (Lockwood, 2009).

Based on recent definitions, the concept of Design Thinking can take three forms, as a mindset, a toolkit or a process. The mentioned forms and application of the concept are described in detail in an article [2] by Walter Brenner (Brenner, 2016).

In this article, we focus the attention on the concept as being a process used in the work environment. This process is known to be an iterative method with the goal of finding solutions for complex problems that an end user might face. The method can be used in order to solve business problems but it can also be used nowadays to solve problems in a person’s life so that they can achieve their goals.

The 5 main principles of the design thinking process :

The first principle, Empathy –  In this stage we work in order to determine what exactly is that the users want from the product or service that we provide. By putting ourselves in the user’s position, we can see what are the features or aspects of the product that are most difficult to work with. We need to know also what the user’s needs are so we can anticipate possible issues and improve the quality of the product or service. We may also need to know what the common problems are that the user is facing in case the product or service is already launched. For this stage, empathy maps are used to help answer most of the questions.


Empathy maps are a useful tool that helps a team gain insight into their end user’s, or a group of user’s, behavior. It is a powerful tool that can determine what the user thinks, feels, says and does. By understanding the behavior of the customer we can determine with high proximity the problems, issues and concerns that they can encounter. With this knowledge at hand, we can formulate a basic idea of the common issues that need to be addressed in order to provide a more user friendly product or service.

In general, empathy maps can be created around a single user or a group of users. It is prefered to have a multi-user input because of the amount and diversity of issues that are encountered during the user’s experience.  The more information, the better! Every detail is collected so that the team can use efficient techniques to solve the major problems. 


The second principle is Define – In the second stage, we need to put a diagnoses, find out the exact challengers, problems and situations that can cause frustration to the client. It is best to determine the root of the problem in order to solve it, not just fixing a few minor errors or making slight chances to the product. 

It is important to understand how the end-user perceives our product, how much value they gain and how this equates to future business opportunities. As explained in the book [4], there are 4 types of clients that we may encounter in our journey, the first type is the Loyal Client that sticks to our product even if the finished product is not “perfect” because the product experience gives them great value. 

The second type are the Early Adopters that are eager to use our product because it gives them value and solves a pressing issue that they are dealing with. The main goal is not a perfect user experience but the solution it offers in fixing their problem. The third type is the Negotiator, they do not have intention to use our product because they do not see a great value to it so they will try to bargain and negotiate for additional services in order to use it. 

The final type of client is the Indifferent User and Silent User, they have a similar attitude towards the product, using it not because they see the concrete value but because there is no viable alternative. By understanding the types of customers and their behavior we can create a better product  experience with a great value.


The third principle is Ideate – This is where the concept is constructed, by brainstorming ideas with the whole team, a solution can be found to the pressing issue. It is important to nourish a creative and diversified team that can provide different perspectives to search for new ideas that can solve the existing problems. 

Having a big team with diverse ideas is essential in developing a viable solution. Once a decision is made regarding the possible solution (or solutions) it’s time to move on to the prototyping stage.


The fourth principle is Prototyping – This stage is where the above mentioned ideas come to life. Prototyping is an important step in evaluating the solutions proposed.This is an iterative process where common errors are encountered and technical feasible solutions are proposed. 

Some people perceive errors as a negative and would like to avoid them as much as possible. It can be discouraging to see them pop up after all the work that has been put into the prototype. It must be noted that, even though the process can be irritating, it’s a good thing that we can find these error and bugs and fix them as soon as possible. The more bugs we find, the better for our future clients because they won’t have to deal with them!

The quality of the product only grows and the end result will be worth it.


The fifth and final principle is Testing – Once the prototype is created, the final stage puts it to the test in order to see the efficiency of the solution and results. The testing period can be carried online or offline, depending on the product / service specification and use. Various tests are performed in order to optimize the user’s experience. After the test is carried out, a report is written that contains clear details of the test performed , the specifications implemented to solve the primary concerns. 

The results are often in the form of feedback that is provided from the end users which are used to make improvements. The concept of Design Thinking can be applied in 3D modeling projects, a concrete example is described in article [3] where the concept is introduced in the classroom of a high school information technology course in Shanghai.

In recent years, several research articles were written in order to assess the efficiency of the concept. Due to the diversity of levels and fields it could be practiced in, it is necessary to take into consideration the full extent of the impact that the concept has. This could be applied at the individual level, teams, companies and organizations.

One example of such a study is the research paper [4] that describes the concept in relation to multiple literature that explain how design thinking can improve the problem solving  and decision making process. The topics covered are: organizational and team learning, the power of positive affect on the decision-making process and cognitive bias.  The conclusion of the paper suggested that the concept may hold true potential in improving management practices with clear implications in the business practices. 

It is important to know that further research needs to be made in order to assess the true impact of the concept from a business standpoint but also from a personal standpoint but hopefully in the future, more evidence will arise and we can determine with more certainty all the benefits and best practices that can be applied in both domains.  


Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard business review, 86(6), 84.
Brenner, W., Uebernickel, F., & Abrell, T. (2016). Design thinking as mindset, process, and toolbox. In Design thinking for innovation (pp. 3-21). Springer, Cham.
Lu, P., Xue, Y., Niu, Y., & Zhu, H. (2019, July). Design and Development of 3D Modeling Course Based on Design Thinking. In 2019 IEEE 19th International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT) (Vol. 2161, pp. 232-233). IEEE.
Liedtka, J. (2018). Why design thinking works. Harvard Business Review, 96(5), 72-79.

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