What is design thinking?
Some of the most innovative brands—including Airbnb, Uber Eats, and GE Healthcare—use design thinking to solve complex problems for their target audiences. This iterative, user-centric approach encourages creativity and diverse viewpoints to meet user needs with delightful new products and services.
Read on to learn more about:
- What design thinking is and how it supports good design
- 4 rules to help guide design thinkers
- 5 phases of design thinking and how Figma can help
The design thinking process uses ideation and problem-solving to generate innovative solutions that resonate with users. Modern companies use design thinking approaches to understand users better, so they can develop intuitive user experiences and improve product functionality.
Companies of all sizes rely on design thinking to:
- Increase customer satisfaction. User research is the foundation of the design thinking process. Reframing problems from the user point of view helps teams produce informed, human-centered designs.
- Boost innovation. Design thinking raises key questions to uncover users’ unmet needs. It challenges assumptions and tests ideas to deliver captivating, creative solutions.
- Improve collaboration. The design thinking process helps keep everyone aligned. Design teams, engineers, business strategists, and other key stakeholders can work better together within a structured framework.
Some design historians claim the term design thinking dates from the 1930s—but this creative, problem-solving methodology only gained widespread traction about 15 years ago. That’s when Tim Brown, chair of design consultancy IDEO, wrote about design thinking for the Harvard Business Review. Brown's book Change by Design became a bestseller, igniting the human-centered design movement.
Stanford University's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (better known as the d.school) established four design thinking principles to guide design thinkers exploring solutions. Here's a quick summary:
- The human rule. Design thinkers should always focus on end users, creating products that address their wants and needs.
- The ambiguity rule. Uncertainty goes hand in hand with out-of-the-box thinking. Accept ambiguity and boldly explore new ideas anyway.
- The re-design rule. Despite an ever-changing technology landscape, core human needs remain constant. This allows teams to learn from and apply past designs to their latest work.
- The tangibility rule. Use prototyping to help bring concepts to life. Prototypes help design thinkers communicate and test ideas in the real world.
Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that doesn’t always follow a step-by-step order. Teams can run phases in parallel, or repeat any of the following stages as needed:
Conduct in-depth user research to understand your target audience’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions. FigJam’s research tools and templates will get you started.
Use insights pulled from user research to identify user needs and challenges. Then develop a clear problem statement.
Brainstorm ways to tackle problems facing your users. Invite key stakeholders to explore innovative ideas.
Get hands-on, and start building prototypes of your most promising concepts. User testing can provide valuable feedback to help you validate and refine your prototypes.
Turn your most promising prototype into a real product. Track and analyze key performance indicators (KPIs) to guide future product development or improvements.
- Keep an open mind when brainstorming ideas. A judgment-free environment keeps the creative process constructive and dynamic.
- Test early and often with simple prototypes. Validate them with your users right from the start to streamline workflows and reduce product development risk.
- Put your users first throughout the design process to build useful, usable products and services.
Kick off the design thinking process with user research, using FigJam’s research plan template to hammer out research goals. To draw insights from your research, try FigJam’s problem statement example.
Ready to get creative? Brainstorm possible solutions using FigJam’s online collaborative whiteboard.
Once you've identified a promising concept, prototyping in Figma helps you to:
- Bring your ideas to life and share them with stakeholders for input and approval.
- Create interactive, polished prototypes for user testing—no code required.
- Refine your designs and prototypes quickly and easily on a single platform.
To dig deeper into design thinking, check out the library of design thinking resources shared by the Figma community.
Ready to engage your users with design thinking?
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