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Learning User Experience Design Series: Design Thinking
Portrait of Andy Leverenz
Andy Leverenz

May 8, 2016

Last updated November 5, 2023

Learning User Experience Design Series: Design Thinking

Design thinking is a problem-solving process that anyone can employ to achieve extraordinary results. On the surface, there is more to design thinking than meets the eye. We’ll kick off this series to describe more of what design thinking is and how it impacts the user experience design process.

Do you remember grade school science class when you learned about the scientific method? Your memory may be fuzzy like mine was, but the scientific method is much similar to design thinking.

You can break design thinking into four parts:

1. Define the problem (Observation)

This part sounds pretty simple but it needs to be done correctly to make design thinking worthwhile. At this stage, you need to confide with yourself and ask “What problem needs solving?”. A common approach is to keep asking yourself “Why?” to everything alongside a specific design challenge.

For example, say you are trying to get more users to subscribe to a newsletter. Your current subscriber list is awfully low and no one seems to express much interest. What can be changed?

Finding the root of the problem begins with observation and critical review:

  • Why are my users not subscribing?
  • Why would my users want to subscribe?
  • Why am I seeking subscribers in the first place?
  • Why, Why, Why…

See the pattern? Answering these questions can be both easy and difficult. Finding the questions that are a challenge to answer is where you start to unfold the problem and target it.

2. Prototyping & Conceptualization (Hypothesis)

In this phase, any data collected in the previous phase is used to develop possible solutions (a.k.a. a hypothesis). You can think of it as a big brainstorming session where no idea is a poor one.

Empathy plays an important role when trying to solve problems. Often times you can’t expect to solve a problem for others unless you are thinking or viewing it from their perspective. Many methods can be used in this phase to get into the brain of your users and their problems. I’ll outline these in an upcoming part of the series.

The key point to remember is no idea is a bad idea at this stage. You may toss out many of said ideas going forward but you will then understand why those ideas failed to come to life. In the end, you or your team will know all hypotheses’ have been considered.

3. What works? (Prediction)

At this phase, you’ve narrowed down your concepts and picked a potential solution you think is worth pursuing. Simply put, your idea, at least to you, is a good one that can solve the problem as defined in the first step.

3.5 Validation (Experiment)

Assuming your concept is a sound solution you, will always want to validate. Validation can be done internally as well as externally depending on the resources and timeframe at hand.

By validation, I mean taking your concept or working prototype and putting it in front of users. Have users test out the prototype with an unbiased approach. Record how they react whether its good or bad. All of this feedback will help you immediately find flaws in the concept which you can later iterate through using the design thinking process again to provide a working resolution.

Validation can stem from people already familiar with the problem you are trying to solve to people who have never encountered the problem before. Gaining insight from both spectrums can help you narrow in on the challenges with proposed solutions.

Repeating these steps may be necessary hence why the step is 3.5. If you find flaws in your prototype you will need to try and correct those. Unfortunately, this means repeating the validation process which can take more time.

The time spent testing is worthwhile for obvious reasons. Eventually, you’ll stumble upon a sound solution which leads to the next step.

4. Execution (Conclusion)

At this stage, you have defined the problem, conceptualized solutions, and tested your concepts. A final prototype is decided upon as the ideal solution to the problem at hand and the design thinking methodology resolves.

Bullet points to bear in mind

  • Document all your findings along with each phase of the process. You never know when a new problem arises without even knowing.
  • Design thinking isn’t just for designers. Individuals and teams can utilize design thinking to solve problems big and small.
  • Design thinking is just a process much like the scientific method. Use it for a structured way to solve problems.
  • Using design thinking is beneficial to product makers as their whole purpose is to solve a problem their users are having. Using empathy towards their users is an absolute must.

Some further reading and resources:

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