Design Thinking

Chinedu Okeke
9 min readOct 17, 2020
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Have you ever had this beautiful thought in your head, so beautiful you could almost taste it and then you just go ahead to make it happen, make it work and make it worth your time, the rigorous process that it takes for that thought to be implemented and actualised, the sleepless night that it takes to make sure it works even after implementation and actualisation, sometimes you might not understand what it is or if you went through the right process to achieve your goal, that process is likely a design thinking process?

Let us educate ourselves on what Design is.

Design is the best thing that has happened to humanity, it is the classification and breaking down of different moving components that help in explaining and defining everything that has and still in existence.

Design could be broken down into parts, e.g Graphic Design, Fashion Design, Architecture, Decoration, Engineering and so on. But design spans through all fields you can think of, from Arts, Sciences and Commerce.

What’s most beautiful about design is that it can’t be done away with, it is crucial to human continued existence and hidden in the fibre of everything that has and still exists.

Misconceptions About Design

Design isn’t about making things look pretty or making things look aesthetically pleasing just for the sake of it.

Nowadays, it can be categorized as a fancy-sounding word, and there seems to be a certain amount of misconceptions surrounding it. But what is it really at its core? Is it simply a process to make pretty looking things? Far from it. It doesn’t focus purely on aesthetics, nor is it about adding ornaments to an item. First and foremost, it is about making the user’s interaction with the environment more natural and complete.

The Key Concepts of Design

Art or science

While not being exactly an art nor a science, it takes elements from both. Art is about creating something that expresses the author’s vision, ideas and feelings. While designers can express feelings and leave impressions through their work, doing so is not their prime objective. So, it takes the creating aspect of art, as it is about crafting an item, a tool, an experience even.

Design is at the service of the people

On the other hand, it takes the problem-solving aspect of science. It exists primarily to address a particular need. To quote Steve Jobs: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

The creative design processes

Problems are best solved when approached comprehensively and systemically. The goal of this process is to guide you and organize your work to turn ideas into concrete solutions. Designers do research and collect information about the problem they are considering: who is the person facing this problem? Why? How are other people trying to solve it? From this research, they make a general hypothesis and identify the main features should be part of the answer. Then with these key aspects in mind, it’s time to experiment with different solutions and iterate. This last part is about learning from what works, what doesn’t to adapt your solution to fit what the user’s need best.

Great design is invisible

It is achieved when the user doesn’t even notice its presence. This principle is particularly true in interaction design. Navigating a user interface should feel natural and unhindered. The user should be able to understand its rules and the meaning of its elements almost immediately. The user is guided by an invisible hand made of colours, shapes, contrast, repetitions.

Approaches to Design

A design approach is a general philosophy that may or may not include a guide for specific methods. Some are to guide the overall goal of the design. Other approaches are to guide the tendencies of the designer.

Some of these approaches include:

  • Sociotechnical system design: is a philosophy and tools for participative designing of work arrangements and supporting processes — for organizational purpose, quality, safety, economics and customer requirements in core work processes, the quality of peoples experience at work and the needs of society.
  • User-centred design: which focuses on the needs, wants, and limitations of the end-user of the designed artefact.
  • Critical design: uses designed artefacts as an embodied critique or commentary on existing values, morals, and practices in a culture.
  • Service design: designing or organizing the experience around a product and the service associated with a product’s use.
  • Transgenerational design: the practice of making products and environments compatible with those physical and sensory impairments associated with human ageing and which limit major activities of daily living.
  • Participatory Design: (originally co-operative design, now often co-design) is the practice of collective creativity to design, attempting to actively involve all stakeholders (e.g. employees, partners, customers, citizens, end-users) in the design process to help ensure the result meets their needs and is usable. Participatory design is an approach which is focused on processes and procedures of design and is not a design style

What is Design Thinking

Let me take you into what design thinking is

Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test.

But here’s my understanding of Design Thinking.

Design Thinking is a user-centred approach used in solving complex user problems/issues to make technology and innovation easier to the user and understand, design thinking is centred on humans.

Design thinking involves five phases — Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test, it is most useful to tackle problems that are ill-defined or unknown.

Let me break down this design thinking processes for you to better understand the role each of them plays, starting with:

Empathize (This is understanding your user needs)

The first stage of the Design Thinking process is to gain an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. This involves consulting experts to find out more about the area of concern through observing, engaging and empathizing with people to understand their experiences and motivations, as well as immersing yourself in the physical environment so you can gain a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved. Empathy is crucial to a human-centred design process such as Design Thinking, and empathy allows design thinkers to set aside their assumptions about the world to gain insight into users and their needs.

Depending on time constraints, a substantial amount of information is gathered at this stage to use during the next stage and to develop the best possible understanding of the users, their needs, and the problems that underlie the development of that particular product.

Define (State your user needs and want)

During the Define stage, you put together the information you have created and gathered during the Empathise stage. This is where you will analyse your observations and synthesise them to define the core problems that you and your team have identified up to this point. You should seek to define the problem as a problem statement in a human-centred manner.

To illustrate, instead of defining the problem as your wish or a need of the company such as, “We need to increase our food-product market share among young teenage girls by 5%,” a much better way to define the problem would be, “Teenage girls need to eat nutritious food to thrive, be healthy and grow.”

The Define stage will help the designers in your team gather great ideas to establish features, functions, and any other elements that will allow them to solve the problems or, at the very least, allow users to resolve issues themselves with the minimum of difficulty. In the Define stage you will start to progress to the third stage, Ideate, by asking questions which can help you look for ideas for solutions by asking: “How might we… encourage teenage girls to perform an action that benefits them and also involves your company’s food-product or service?”

Ideate (Challenge Assumptions and Create Ideas)

During the third stage of the Design Thinking process, designers are ready to start generating ideas. You’ve grown to understand your users and their needs in the Empathise stage, and you’ve analysed and synthesised your observations in the Define stage, and ended up with a human-centred problem statement. With this solid background, you and your team members can start to “think outside the box” to identify new solutions to the problem statement you’ve created, and you can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem. There are hundreds of Ideation techniques such as Brainstorm, Brainwriting, Worst Possible Idea, and SCAMPER. Brainstorm and Worst Possible Idea sessions are typically used to stimulate free thinking and to expand the problem space. It is important to get as many ideas or problem solutions as possible at the beginning of the Ideation phase. You should pick some other Ideation techniques by the end of the Ideation phase to help you investigate and test your ideas so you can find the best way to either solve a problem or provide the elements required to circumvent it.

Prototype (Start to create solution)

The design team will now produce several inexpensive, scaled-down versions of the product or specific features found within the product, so they can investigate the problem solutions generated in the previous stage. Prototypes may be shared and tested within the team itself, in other departments, or on a small group of people outside the design team. This is an experimental phase, and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the first three stages. The solutions are implemented within the prototypes, and, one by one, they are investigated and either accepted, improved, re-examined, or rejected based on the users’ experiences. By the end of this stage, the design team will have a better idea of the constraints inherent to the product and the problems that are present, and have a clearer view of how real users would behave, think, and feel when interacting with the end product.

Test (Try your solutions out)

Designers or evaluators rigorously test the complete product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. This is the final stage of the 5 stage-model, but in an iterative process, the results generated during the testing phase are often used to redefine one or more problems and inform the understanding of the users, the conditions of use, how people think, behave, and feel, and to empathise. Even during this phase, alterations and refinements are made to rule out problem solutions and derive as deep an understanding of the product and its users as possible.

Overall, you should understand that these stages are different modes which contribute to the entire design project, rather than sequential steps. Your goal throughout is to gain the deepest understanding of the users and what their ideal solution/product would be.

Why is Design Thinking Important?

In user experience (UX) design, it’s crucial to develop and refine skills to understand and address rapid changes in users’ environments and behaviours. The world has become increasingly interconnected and complex since cognitive scientist and Nobel Prize laureate Herbert A. Simon first mentioned design thinking in his 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial, and then contributed many ideas to its principles. Professionals from a variety of fields, including architecture and engineering, subsequently advanced this highly creative process to address human needs in the modern age. Twenty-first-century organizations from a wide range of industries find design thinking a valuable means to problem-solving for the users of their products and services. Design teams use design thinking to tackle ill-defined/unknown problems (aka wicked problems) because they can reframe these in human-centric ways and focus on what’s most important for users. Of all design processes, design thinking is almost certainly the best for “thinking outside the box”. With it, teams can do better UX research, prototyping and usability testing to uncover new ways to meet users’ needs.

Design thinking’s value as a world-improving, driving force in business (global heavyweights such as Google, Apple and Airbnb have wielded it to notable effect) matches its status as a popular subject at leading international universities. With design, thinking teams have the freedom to generate ground-breaking solutions. Using it, your team can get behind hard-to-access insights and apply a collection of hands-on methods to help find innovative answers.




Chinedu Okeke

Product Designer | UX Designer | Designing for usability & accessibility