Several individuals participate in a table meeting in which they draw the design thinking process.

The Design Thinking Process and its Use Cases

              As businesses look for innovative solutions to problem-solving, engage employees, and identify cross-technical synergies, several methodologies from different areas of expertise have been adopted and adapted to fit different parameters of business functions. Famously, the Agile methodology, which was originally designed for software development, has been imported and adapted by several organizations for use in areas outside software development. Design thinking has experienced a similar trend over the years as it provides a systematic approach to tackle uncertainties and constraints with a human-centric mentality. In this article, we will be discussing what is design thinking, its process, and some of its use cases.

What is Design Thinking?

              Although several different definitions can be found online, the common understanding is that design thinking is a framework which employs a series of tools and resources to guide individuals, organizations, and institutions in their problem-solving journey. Ideo.org defines design thinking in the following way:

"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."

              The widely known human-centered aspect of the methodology comes from the fact that although it tries to find solutions to a problem, it first seeks to understand who the solution will be designed for and what their needs are. Once those stories are heard/ parameters are defined, then the problem-solving process begins by following the design thinking process.

What is the Design Thinking Process?

              Even though different consulting practices, organizations, and institutions use different nomenclature to describe the process, the design thinking process generally follows a 5 step process which has been immortalized by Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design:

  • Empathize: The first step is to try and understand the individuals who the problem solvers are trying to design a product, service, or solution for. This step places a heavy focus in trying to gather information on users by doing interviews, creating user stories, and generally trying to understand who the consumer of the product/ service is and what their problems are.
  • Define: Upon gathering information on the previous step, problem solvers are then prompted to set the parameters of their users by defining who their users are, what their needs are, and the challenges they face. This is often accomplished by identifying common themes in the user sample data that provide an answer to the identified questions.
  • Ideate: Once the previous two steps are complete, solutions and ideas are brainstormed in a way that the problems and challenges identified in step number 2 are fulfilled. It is important to note that it is not enough to give a solution to the problem, the user must be at the center of the solution. With users’ stories and cases in mind, one must ask: is this solution appropriate for the types of users we target? Sometimes the entire solution might not be appropriate, however, elements of the solution can be salvaged and built into other solutions.
  • Prototype: After ideas are brainstormed, common and interesting traits and functionalities are identified to try and shape the best possible solutions to each problem found in step 2. A minimum viable product (MVP) is created and it can be done in a very simplistic way: service process flow or product paper prototyping.
  • Test: the MVP solutions identified in the previous step are tested with several different individuals and modifications to the problem are noted, implemented, and tested again. It is important to note that new user problems may arise during this process and that it is ok because design thinking is an iterative process that allows for problem and product refinement.

              Despite design thinking having a step-by-step process, it is important to note that at any point problem-solvers may go back to a previous step that has already been “cleared” to further refine their findings. Remember that design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving whereas user desirability, useability, feasibility, and operational efficiency are at the centre of the solution.

Use Cases for Design Thinking

              Design thinking can be applied across a multitude of organizational profiles and environments because of its broad encompassing nature. Below are different case scenarios from Ideo.org and other companies and organizations who implemented design thinking to revolutionize their products, services, industries, and improve their bottom lines:

Indra Nooyi’s journey to implement design thinking at Pepsi

              The former CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi who is responsible for growing the company’s sales in 80% during her 12-year tenure, gave an interview to HBR in which she describes her journey to implement design thinking in the company with the help of Mauro Porcini – Pepsi’s current SVP & Chief Design Officer. In the interview, she showcases the importance of assuming a customer perspective, specially on how manufactured products are acquired and consumed. Design thinking led the company to rethink packaging, dietary concerns, and the company’s strategy in general.

Design thinking to redesign education in Peru’s private schools

              At the time, Peru faced a shortage of qualified teachers and socioeconomic challenges that ramped up the prices of land which made it difficult for middle-class families to access private education in the county. IDEO, a global design thinking company, was hired to redesign the education system for a private network of schools. The project has resulted in more than 60 new schools in Peru and it is being exported internationally to other countries such as Mexico.

    Improving the Health and Wellness of Patients – Stanford Hospital

                  To some, the hospital experience can be challenging, ranging from long wait times, misdiagnoses and more. Instead of continuing to follow the standard approach, Stanford Hospital decided to take combine data and design thinking to drive further improvements in health and wellness for its patients.

    How to Get Started with Design Thinking


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