UX/UI professionals commonly use the term “design thinking” to describe successful and unsuccessful design choices made by their counterparts in the industry, but novices are typically confused by this terminology. Let’s look into what “design thinking” means and how this concept is pivotal in the development and application of your ongoing projects.
What Is Design Thinking?
“Design thinking” is the methodology behind creating services, applications, and products that focuses on providing the most efficient solution to a client’s challenge or pain points. The technical aspects, as well as the solution’s financial prospects, are secondary, as these can be handled and addressed by the developing party if the designed product meets the requirements of the client in the best possible manner.
The development of “design thinking” entails a few key skills:
- Business-oriented thinking
- Comprehension of the problem from the user’s perspective
- Development through a personalized approach
How Design Thinking Works
Every professional user experience agency approaches the attempt to solve a client’s problem through five particular stages: empathy, focusing, idea generation, prototyping, and testing. Let’s address each of these more thoroughly.
1st Stage: Empathy
As the user is the one with the problem that the designer seeks to address, it is vital for the key perspective of the problem to be considered to be that of said user. In other words, a designer must put themselves in the position of the affected user in order to empathize with what the user is struggling with, and what they need and want in order to have a better experience. While every designer has their own opinions, it is important for them to set their own preference and bias aside, and view the problem from the point of view of the affected end-user.
A true designer perpetually operates from an empathetic viewpoint. It is easier, after all, to accomplish those projects that the designer cares about and understands. It is a whole different type of challenge to finding a solution that serves the needs of others. This requires a deep-rooted comprehension of the customer’s business function, and how the particular solution most optimally addresses the customer’s specific needs.
Second Stage: Focusing
Once the information is collected and compiled through the understanding of a user-side perspective of the problem in the empathy stage, we move on to the focusing stage. This step in design thinking entails establishing a point of focus, then working toward the most fitting solution. To do so, the designer must establish the primary question that they will be seeking an answer to in the next stage. Typically this question will pertain to the particular business functions and the ideal ways to optimize the client’s experience.
Third Stage: Idea Generation
Based on the understanding of the problem acquired in the empathy stage and the optimal result derived from the focus stage, the next stage involves the exploration of ideas for the best possible methods by which to implement the ideal solution. In this stage, it is important for the designer to avoid the conventional wisdom approaches and to think outside of the box for the most unique, specially-tailored approach.
During this stage, too many ideas are not enough. The designer must consider everything, no matter how excessive or radical it might seem initially. It is only once a good number of ideas have been put together that the designer must sift through these, filtering out realistically pragmatic solutions from the noise.
The biggest hurdle designers must overcome at this stage is criticism: the enemy of creativity. Designers must be wary that none of the ideas are bad. Some ideas are better than others of course, but their efficacy evaluation is for the filtering process of idea generation. Criticism of ideas is likely inevitable, but it should not be allowed to stifle creativity.
Fourth Stage: Prototyping
Armed with a filtered list of ideas on how to approach getting to a solution, we move on to the prototyping stage of design thinking. This stage involves working with the remaining ideas to set up a concrete plan and to generate a scaled-down version of the design that will include the essential functions to assist in getting to the final solution.
By establishing a prototype designers are able to:
- Find shortcomings and learn from them
- Find the best idea to put into practice or fusing concepts of multiple ideas together
- Refine the product
- Determine the prime solution for the final product
- Save money and time by trialing the prototype instead of the final product in case the solution ultimately fails
If the work with the prototype is a success, the designer then moves to the testing stage of the design thinking process. In case of failure, the process reverts to the focusing stage to restart the evaluation of necessary solutions.
Fifth Stage: Testing
Assuming a successful prototype, the designer proceeds to the final stage that involves testing the newly developed solution. While the stage is the last of the 5, it is actually meant to be a repeatable cycle. Testing often reveals previously unexposed problems that need to be addressed, which in turn lead to optimizing the final product even more.
The best way to test a product is to turn it over to the customer. After all, they will make rigorous use of it and are likely to identify issues pertaining to their particular workflows which would be hard or impossible for the designer to anticipate. When customers provide their feedback, the development team can further refine the product and utilize more applicable testing methodologies through a variety of methods, as well as across various devices. The refined product can be turned over to the customers for their use, and the process repeats itself until the customer finally issues a good rating for the final version of the product.
How To Apply Design Thinking
To understand the application of design thinking let’s consider a designer in the food industry who is looking to develop a prototype for a new type of microwave. If the designer took the conventional approach, they would interview a number of microwave users for their feedback, study the benefits and shortcomings of existing microwave models on the market, and propose a solution that incorporates the fusion of all of that collected knowledge.
Conversely, a designer could also take a less conventional and more creative approach by focusing less on the product and more on people’s microwave-using behaviors and habits.
Overall, design thinking helps to develop more innovative solutions that address issues that are not immediately evident, saving both money and time in the process. Grasping the problem from the customer’s viewpoint, thinking outside the conventional limits, filtering through a brainstorm of ideas, and generating innovative solutions are all inherent benefits from this methodology approach.
Few processes necessitate as deep of immersion into the mind of the customer as does the business of UI/UX design. But through understanding the concerns and pain points of the users, the designer can work toward generating the most practical and accommodating solutions for their clients.