Anyone can come up with an answer to a problem, but the correct solution takes work. Through design thinking, MorganFranklin Consulting shows clients that throwing out what you think you know and using designer approaches like leveraging empathy and experimentation allows companies to develop innovative solutions and arrive at new possibilities.

From Airbnb to Bank of America to selling solar panels in rural Africa, design thinking has been leveraged to solve a wide range of problems, develop new products and services, and build forward-thinking business models. Its framework allows your team to become and stay innovative regardless of role or industry. Since design thinking pioneer Tim Brown’s 2008 Harvard Business Review article (subscription required) and 2009 TED Talk, design thinking has blown up in popularity with teams ranging from start-ups to international organizations.

What is design thinking?

Intersection of Innovative Solutions

Innovative solutions are at the intersection of people’s needs, technological capabilities, and business success requirements.

Design thinking is a human-centered problem-solving framework focused on finding the intersection between people’s needs, technological capabilities, and business success requirements. The results associated with focusing on this intersection allow companies to creatively and effectively traverse real-world problems better than they otherwise would.

The three pillars of design thinking focus on the following:

  • uncovering and prioritizing the unmet needs of your team or stakeholders
  • mitigating risk associated with launching new initiatives and ideas
  • focusing on revolutionary solutions over incremental improvements.

What is the design thinking process?

The five steps of the design thinking process.

Empathize

The first step of design thinking focuses on gaining an empathetic understanding of the end user affected by the problem you’re solving. This requires observing and engaging with your end user to understand their perspective, motivations, and experiences. It’s important to put aside your preconceptions to learn your end user’s needs and insights.

Define

During the second stage of design thinking, you’ll work to analyze and organize the information you collected in the first step to define the core issues your end users face. These issues will develop into end user–focused needs statements. These statements will provide you a base for ideating solutions.

Ideate

At this stage, you’ll leverage your understanding of your end users to look for alternative ways to view their needs and identify outside-the-box solutions. Co-located teams should look to use sticky notes, Sharpie markers, stickers, and music (optional) to develop an open environment for sharing, organizing, and prioritizing solutions. Remote teams can create a similar environment and outcome by using a digital collaboration platform. The goal here is to collect as many ideas or solutions as possible, organize them based on end user criteria, and begin narrowing in on the best ideas.

Prototype

During the next stage, your team will vet the solutions collected during the previous step through building inexpensive and scaled-down versions of the products. These prototypes will be shared and tested by members within or outside of your team to develop a clear view of what end users would think, feel, do, and say when interacting with the end product. One by one, prototypes and the solutions within them will be investigated and accepted, improved, or rejected based on tester experiences. The goal here is to leverage an experimental approach to hone in on the best solutions for each of the problems recognized during the define stage.

Test

The final stage focuses on rigorously testing the best products and solutions identified during the Prototype stage. Although Testing is the final stage, it’s important to recognize that design thinking is an iterative process. As results are generated from testing, your team will continue to develop a deeper understanding of what your end user will think, feel, do, and say. Use this information to continue to redefine problems collected during the Define and Prototype stages. The goal here is to alter and refine your products to the point that they offer economically and technologically feasible solutions to as many end user problems as possible.

It’s a nonlinear process

We’ve laid out design thinking as a linear process where one stage occurs after another. However, in practice, this process is much more flexible. For example, testing a product or solution may lead to the development of a new prototype or even a new ideation session. Also, teams may work on stages concurrently or prototype and collect information throughout the life cycle of a project. It comes down to being flexible with the steps laid out and driving the process with an end user centric focus.

What value does design thinking bring?

Design thinking allows teams to explore problems creatively, immerse themselves in end user needs, and intuitively construct solutions. Teams are forced to make decisions on what customers really want versus relying on risky bets, historical data, or instinct over evidence. This lets teams across industries grow their market, drive value for customers, redesign their product offerings, and stay innovative. Design thinking can not only be used to design new products or solutions but to solve any problem or challenge.

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