Why Design Thinking is the secret ingredient for a great project

Design Thinking? I’m not a graphic designer!

Design Thinking can be defined as a method of solving the problems by providing innovative solutions. Its effectiveness derives from the combination of a strong focus on the user, technological capabilities, expectations and business requirements that define the success of the project. Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, which creation, development, and success are closely related to the development of the Design Thinking, describes it as a systematic method of solving design problems. In less confusing words, Design Thinking is nothing but a way of work and a (rather close!) cooperation, which is based on an in-depth understanding of customer needs - both the customer who ultimately is the recipient (potential user) of a given project and a client who ordered the execution.

Over the years of using Design Thinking as an effective method of delivering innovative solutions users also managed to come up with a really decent workshop with the entire pool of tools used at different stages of the project. This method is worth checking at least because of the richness and diversity of its"tool box."

Design Thinking is not only a buzzword which appeared out of nowhere. Understood as a set of specific tools and different methods of work that are used in a business context (usually in the form of workshops combining different insight and know-how of the participants) it was developed during last few decades. The turning point in its "career" was when David M. Kelly adapted it as a foundation for the IDEO company. Kelly, as the founder of IDEO, went a step further by starting a close cooperation between his business and Stanford University. This combination of business approach (which is strongly based on everyday experiences) and the analytical perspectives of academics greatly contributed to the development of Design Thinking. In 2005 Stanford University added Design Thinking as an integral part of their courses. Design Thinking as a formal method of working is learned by, among others, students of technical studies. The Stanford d.school has become a kind of a hallmark of this university.

Understood as a method of work and problem solving, Design Thinking is most accurately described as a process of providing functional solutions (i.e.,. Solution-based process). What’s it all about? When (in the context of other methods, methodologies, techniques, and approaches) team is absorbed with endless discussions trying to plan to the smallest detail all functionalities of the designed solution, with the help comes DT. Usually, functional description and a detailed timetable for delivery of The-Only-Right-Solutions can really take a lot of time. When it comes to Design Thinking, things are a little bit different - its main motto is: doing, not talking.

Instead of trying to describe the whole process ad hoc, the team divides its work into smaller steps aimed at further expansion of the topics and clarification of the assumptions. When in the typical approach the team has an incomplete list of features and requirements, the one that uses Design Thinking at the same time point has several lo-fi prototype alternatives (and knows that at least half of them are meaningless because they had time to test their assumption with real users). The difference lies in an entirely different approach to workflow. Design Thinking "forces" the team to test their solutions, to play with alternative proposals and to evaluate at least some of them. Fail fast, fail cheap & fail often - that’s how you can summarize conceptual work, which plays a huge role in the early stages of the product design process. How does it work in everyday life? It’s all about piles of sheets of paper, post-its, lo-fi mockups or prototypes that can be built in really short time (but still allows verification of underlying assumptions of the next iteration of the evolving project).

Design Thinking in 5 steps

Design Thinking in 5 steps

Design Thinking as a method of projects workflow has several forms, differing in the number of stages and names - in practice each of them comes down to the same range of activities. The most popular type of DT is the one developed by IDEO & Stanford d.school, in which one can distinguish stages of empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping, and testing. Contrary to the traditional working methods (e.g.,. waterfall process), Design Thinking is a more flexible and ensures that you will quickly be able to start prototyping and test your ideas and possible solutions.

Throughout the process, a strong emphasis is placed on issues related to understanding the needs of users and their motivations, which are the base for the entire procedure. This iterative process is carried out in line with the idea of creating prototypes and testing them without bearing big financial costs. Fail cheap, fail fast and often is what distinguish Design Thinking when it comes to the effectiveness of the creation of solutions tailored for its users. It is putting an emphasis on searching for a variety of great ideas (answering the “what works?” question) rather that on searching for one solution (answering the “what is right?” question). It similar to this simple equation: what do I have to do to get number 8? In more traditional manner, the answer will be 4+4. Design Thinking means looking at it in a broader context, therefore 2x4, 24/3, 12-4 and 6+2 are what we are supposed to look for and what we will find while working with this method.

Empathy stage, which is crucial for the whole process, is responsible for a deep understanding of the context as well as roles, interactions, motivations and errors of all "users" having contact with it. Why? Because it enables creating solutions that are accurate to the needs of customers, even the ones that they can’t precisely describe.

Design Thinking means

  • concentrating on users - understanding their needs (even the ones they are not aware they have);
  • interdisciplinary team - allows you to look at the problem from many perspectives arising from the diverse knowledge and experience;
  • experimenting and frequent testing of hypotheses - building prototypes and gathering feedback from users.

As a result, the created solutions are

  • tailored and (as an outcome) desired by the user;
  • technologically doable;
  • economically justified.

You don’t have to implement the whole range of DT tools into your working process to succeed - even using its elements to complement your current methods can still work wonders.

Why should you use Design Thinking?

Design Thinking in the form known today is becoming increasingly popular - particularly in the IT industry. Constant changes in the way of providing solutions are coming along with the popularization of the Internet and development of everything related to digital. Design Thinking is a specific manifestation of design in the paradigm of User-Centered Design, which in recent years has become the new standard for the creation of products and services. It also fits in with the idea of Service Design as a method of work and implementation of various projects. DT is aimed at delivering well-designed services, understood as those that build a coherent ecosystem of a variety of channels and user interactions with the service. The user is not interested in explanations and excuses why the book purchased online can’t be returned in a stationary store of this brand, even when the distinction between online and offline channels is obvious for the conductors of this business. Nowadays the creation of well-designed solutions is not only about providing a decent quality of goods, technological facilities, functional websites or an excellent customer service. It also skillfully combines all elements that contribute to the whole service and provides customers with a sense of flow and cohesion while moving between all touch points of the service. It is not enough to have a well-designed online store, great offer or excellent product - what counts is the final result of the combination of all these elements.


Creating so-called multichannel (often an omnichannel) experience becomes a key challenge for every industry nowadays. How does the Design Thinking fit into that? In everyday practice, it turns out to be a really adequate way of working on projects that require combining actions on many levels and contexts in a dynamically changing environment.

Design Thinking supports a holistic approach and deep understanding of the needs of different customer groups, situations, and actions. All those elements are forged into small steps, individual interactions and micro-moments within specific channels and touch points.

Users got used to rapid technological changes and demand cross-platform, multi-channel solutions which are consistent and user-friendly. It requires specialization and achieving the master level in combining and delivering the development of advanced websites, stores, native mobile apps and other solutions into holistic systems that are easy in use. It is quite challenging when it comes to planning and development processes.
Using Design Thinking can reconcile these two perspectives by providing frameworks and tools that work even in very complex projects, enabling transparent switching between different levels - from the most general assumptions to the precise defining of the activities and scope of the interaction of the user at a particular service’s point. Today it is impossible to create a well-functioning website or online store suspended in a vacuo - their functionalities, purpose, and scope should always be the result of the client's needs, motivation, knowledge, and skills, as well as their offer and brand strategy offering a specific range of activities and services. Omitting any of this aspects results (in the best case scenario) in the irritation of users. Many mistakes result from a misunderstanding of the user’s needs and expectations and can be avoided in the early stages of creating this type of project, in which Design Thinking will be a great help.

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