How to use design thinking in your next project

How to use design thinking in your next project

With more and more engineering-focused companies trying to become design-centric, they’re no doubt trying to adopt design thinking.

But it’s not as simple as saying, “Just use design thinking.” Saying it does not make it so.

What exactly is “Design Thinking”? Let’s take a step back and hear from the man who helped shaped the methodology as it’s used today, Tim Brown of IDEO. As he writes:

“Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”

Got it? Maybe? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many others have tried to pin down exactly what design thinking is in practice, including some leaders in the design community, such as Bryan Zmijewski of ZURB and Mark Payne of Farenheit 212.

In this post, we’ll walk you through how to put design thinking into practice so that you can drive your project forward.

The Parts of Design Thinking

Before we dive into making design thinking actionable, let’s review the parts that make it up, as outlined by Stanford’s D School.

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Photo credit: Marcin Treder

  • Empathy: This is one of the indispensable traits of a designer. You have to empathize with your users. This means getting to know them through interviews, observations and learning how they would possibly interact with your product.
  • Define: From that empathy, you can start forming hypotheses and asking further questions. All the while keeping the user’s perspective in mind.
  • Ideate: This is the exploration phase, where no idea is off the table. Burn through bad ideas to get to the good ones.
  • Prototype: Put your ideas to the test. Building a prototype allows you to see how your product might feel out in the wild.
  • Test: Now this is where you can put your prototype in front of users, learning how they interact with it and thus allowing you to refine your ideas.

With an overview of the design thinking process, we can now see how to put it into action.

Get to Know Your Users

Empathy is the foundation of design thinking.

In order to identify the right problems, you need to think and feel like the people you’re trying to help.

Joe Gebbia tells this wonderful story of Airbnb’s early days when investor Paul Graham told them, “Your users are in New York and you’re here in Mountain View (Ca) — what are you doing here?”