Design Thinking as a Strategy for Innovation

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Design thinking, what is that? It’s definitely another buzzword, but a lot of people don’t really know what it means. To be honest, there are no specific definitions, but they all include a problem solving process to identify people’s needs first.

It is a good method for solving complex problems. Design thinking helps organisations find unmet needs and create value taking into account gathered insights.

An Intro to Design Thinking

Design thinking became so popular because it minimizes the uncertainty and risk of innovation by engaging customers and users through a series of prototypes to learn, test and refine concepts. Design thinkers rely on customer insights gained from real-world experiments, tests and projects, not just general data or market research done by someone else. This approach brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically possible and economically viable.

As digital technology becomes more advanced and sophisticated, it penetrates more parts of our lives and the importance of design thinking increases. Design thinking spreads across companies of all industries and sizes, from private health companies to multinational corporations and local governments. As design thinking is an iterative process, it’s adapted together with agile methodology.

Design Thinking came from product development and engineering departments, but now its processes are adopted by research and design, development and marketing and many other departments in many organisations across the globe, P&G and Bayer are good examples.

5 Stages in Design Thinking Process

Building features is quite simple, but what is important here is – creating right features for the right people; asking right questions, creating right features and engaging with the right people effectively and efficiently.

You will find different number of stages in companies, but they all go through the following steps:

1. Empathise

The first stage of the Design Thinking process is to gain an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. Here you need to find out more about the area of concern through observing and engaging with your target, your customers to understand their experiences and motivations.

You need to explore physical environment to have a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved. Here you need to gather data about what your users do, say, think, and feel.

2. Define

During the define stage, you put together the information you found and gathered during the Empathise stage. Here you will analyse your observations and synthesize them in order to define the core problems. But you should define them in a human-centred manner. In this phase you actually begin to highlight opportunities for innovation.

3. Ideate

During the third stage of the Design Thinking process, designers are ready to start generating ideas. You understand your users and their needs, you’ve analysed your observations and found several opportunities and came up with human-centered problem statement.

Now, with this solid background you start thinking outside the box to identify new solutions to solve the problem you found. Here you start looking for alternative ways of viewing the problem. There are hundreds of Ideation techniques such as Brainstorm, Worst Possible Idea, Scamper and many many others.

In this phase there are almost no rules, all ideas are welcomed and encouraged. Here you need to give yourself and your team total freedom. Share ideas with one another, mixing and remixing, building on others’ ideas. It is a collaborative process.

4. Prototype

Now its time to produce a number of inexpensive, simple and scaled down versions of the product or features. 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, they are investigated and either accepted, improved or rejected on the basis of the users’ experiences. The idea is that at the end of this stage, team has a better idea of the problems and solutions. And don’t forget that the find goal of this phase is to understand what components of your ideas work, and which do not.

Here you begin to weigh the impact vs. feasibility of your ideas with the help of feedback on your prototypes.

5. Test

In this phase, you finally test the complete product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. Here you put your prototype in front of real customers and verify that it achieves your goals and your user’s ones.

Typical questions are “Does this solution meet users’ needs?”, “Has it improved how they feel, think, or do their tasks?”, etc. The results generated during the testing phase are often used to redefine several problems; how people think, behave, and feel.

In this phase you ensure that you deal with real user problems and thus avoid creating something that is not demanded.

Within these phases, problems can be identified, the right questions can be asked, more ideas can be created, and the best answers can be chosen

The 5 steps in the Design Thinking Process

The 5 steps in the Design Thinking Process – Image by Billy Loizou

Key Mindsets that Govern Design Thinking


Don’t stick to your previous work when you try to come up with new ideas. Try to innovate based on your vision of the future.

Get Inspired

Go to a place that inspires you. Be around things and people that help you come up with creative ideas.

Feedback driven

You just can’t know everything in the beginning. And no worries, it’s alright. It is important to understand that there are certain answers that you will only when you study your target and get your users’ feedback about your product or idea.

Learn by doing

Do, do and do. Instead of guessing, create and test. Every person has brilliant ideas, but not all of them are shared. Put your ideas into practice, whatever ideas you have, apply them and see what others think about them.

Go out and speak with your users, they will give you insights about how the product should look like.

Head to Hands

Don’t let your ideas go away. Whenever an idea makes sense, try to work it out. Put your ideas into action through sketching, discussing or prototyping.


Visuals are a great source for communicating your ideas, your problems and your solutions. They help to create a great connection with the users.

Negative result is a result

Remember it is okay to fail. It helps you to see what you need to skip or avoid doing in the future. Failing you gain valuable experience. Fails also encourages your design thinking process.

Advantages of Design Thinking

  • It is a user-centered process and it means that you work on real user needs, and test your solutions with real customers. The idea is to develop useful products and solutions that fit the needs of the user, not the other way around.
  • It encourages innovation by exploring several solutions for the same problem. It gives you the opportunity to view a problem from a different perspective. Jakob Nielsen says “a wonderful interface solving the wrong problem will fail.” Design thinking encourages creativity and focuses on the right problem.
  • It allows you to analyze the problem to determine its root cause. Design Thinking allows you to get to the heart of the matter.
  • It ensures that the your final product meets objectives and client requirements. Design thinking makes sure that you end up launching a product that has undergone numerous rounds of testing and client feedback.
  • It makes you continually expand your knowledge. It is all about feedback, ideas and solutions evaluations.
  • Iterative process, constant improvement and learning.

We live in the era of experiences. We have high expectations for services and products. It is becoming more difficult to meet or exceed client’s expectations. Technology continues to evolve. You have a lot of new opportunities and it is difficult to stay focused and be the best one in one field?

Now you always need to do a research, always need to speak with your users to stay up to date with their always changing demands and preferences. We live not only in the era of experience, but in the era of technology evolution and as we know, evolution creates a lot of unmet needs.


Design thinking gives us a lot of opportunities. Even though it’s simply an approach to problem solving, it increases the probability of success and breakthrough innovation.

I think it is very important to add design thinking in the school or university programme. If children are familiar with these important concepts since their childhood, they can solve the world’s biggest problems in the future.

I believe, that the next generation will need to be more and more comfortable with problems of increasing complexity and design thinking can teach them that.

Ekaterina Novoseltseva

Ekaterina Novoseltseva is a CMO at Apiumhub – software development hub, which is specialized in web & mobile app design and development.

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  1. Good points. My take on design thinking is thinking in abstracts so we can test all our assumptions first through mental models. Then we start building it in the real world.

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