August 1, 2019

What Is Design Thinking? (A Definition)

Matt Cameron

Many of today’s most established organizations embrace design thinking principles to better understand their customers’ needs and design products that address them. But what is design thinking and why is it important? In this article, we define design thinking, share the key benefits of embracing it, and highlight the ways we incorporate it into our own work at Checkmate Digital.

A Design Thinking Definition

We define design thinking as a methodology for creative problem solving that encourages companies to focus on users first and foremost. It’s a way of understanding people and their pain points, reframing problems in creative ways, and generating solutions for business needs that ultimately lead to better products and services. 

While design thinking can be applied across a number of different industries, it’s often referred to in the context of digital product design—which is what we’ll focus on primarily in this article.

The Five Stages Of Design Thinking

Design thinking is an iterative process that can be broken down into five steps. The steps were originally introduced and popularized by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. Since then, this process has become a standard way to define design thinking:

  1. Empathize: Research user pain points and challenges.
  2. Define: Determine the specific user problem your design will try to solve.
  3. Ideate: Identify innovative solutions and choose the best one to move forward with.
  4. Prototype: Begin building a prototype of the solution for user testing.
  5. Test: Put your prototype in front of real users and observe their experiences.

While these stages are indeed an industry standard, companies follow different variations of the model that embody the same design thinking principles. The design thinking process is non-linear and repeatable, and not necessarily carried out in any sequential order.

How Companies Can Benefit From Design Thinking

Frank Chimero, an established designer, hit the nail on the head when he said:

“People ignore design that ignores people.” 

Knowing the target audience, empathizing with their pain points, and honing in on their needs better enables companies to come up with effective solutions to ensure those needs are met—and to offer a more meaningful user experience (UX) as a result. However, people often have trouble targeting a specific demographic and tailoring the user experience to solve for real user pain points. It happens all the time: Someone comes up with a great app idea, without a true understanding of the target persona. 

There are a number of benefits to employing design thinking principles when you’re creating a new product, but perhaps the most impactful is the ability to empathize with real users and solve real problems with your design. Following the design thinking methodology reduces the risk that often comes with launching new ideas by incorporating user testing—meaning you can test out your ideas before spending excessive time and money bringing them to market. 

This mindset is really useful for putting yourself in the shoes of the target persona, which is absolutely essential to creating a quality product that users love. 

Another benefit to design thinking is that it allows those in less creative roles to think like designers. Because designers are trained to break down individual problems and prioritize finding the best solutions in a methodical way, adopting this approach can be a game changer for companies designing new (or improving existing) products.

Turn a messy, unclear problem into an interactive prototype tested by your target users—all in under a week.

Facilitating Design Thinking Through Design Sprints

At Checkmate Digital, design sprints are essentially the framework in which we employ design thinking for digital products. We use design sprints to try and reach a clearly defined solution for addressing the target persona’s pain points. 

Our design sprints are intensive, four-day workshops that allow everyone on the client team to embrace design thinking principles as a group. The design thinking exercises we facilitate during our sprints are especially helpful for breaking down the core problem and figuring out the best solution for that specific user group.

Our Design Sprint Process

The outcome of our design sprints is an interactive prototype that looks and feels like a real product. Because the prototype is tested by real target users, this allows our clients to move forward with clear, validated direction. Our design sprints are a great example of how design thinking can benefit your business and improve the experience you offer to your users.

Let’s Put Your Next Big Idea In Front Of Real Users

If you have a great product idea but are hesitant to move forward with it, a design sprint might be the perfect next step for you. Our design sprints are a highly effective way of building momentum and testing out an idea without investing significant time and money—especially without any real validation from target users. Let’s talk about your product idea and how our design sprint process can generate a tested solution and clear direction on what should come next.

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