Jennifer Coffey

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What is Design Thinking?

“Design Thinking is a design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems.”

– Rikke Friis Dam, Teo Yu Siang 

What is design thinking? Depending on who you ask, you’re probably going to get a different answer. Design thinking doesn’t just pop into the heads of designers. There is a process that takes place over time to achieve optimal innovation. 

This process isn’t a clear-cut format that every designer follows. Each project is unique and requires a design process tailored tit’s specific needs because design thinking is more of a metaphysical space than a step-by-step linear process (Brown, 88). Luckily, designers can use five main stages of design thinking to focus on human-centered issues.

Five Stages of Design Thinking

The five stages of design thinking are; empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Again, these stages are fluid and don’t have to follow a specific order. 


Since design thinking is human-centered, the first step in the process is to empathize with the problem. “Innovation is powered by a thorough understanding, through direct observation, of what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular products are made, packaged, marketed, sold, and supported,” (Brown 86). The goal of this stage is to understand the full extent of the situation. Once the designers understand what people are going through, they are then able to define the problem.


Now that the designers understand what is going on, it’s time to define the problem. This problem statement summarizes core problems the team has found up to this point but could change later in the process (Dam, Siang 2021). The goal of the define stage is to define the right problems to solve. Once this is complete, designers can move on to the next stage of design thinking. 


Now it is time to start coming up with ideas to solve the problem. It is essential to think outside the box and not get stuck solving a problem the same way every time (Fast Company). The goal of the stage is to come up with as many ideas as possible, then narrow them down as time goes on. In the refinery process, some ideas might merge or expand, or sometimes the designers realize they need to go back to defining the problem. Overall, once an idea or group of ideas is ready, it’s time to prototype. 


In his Ted Talk on design thinking, Tim Brown talks about how important it is to prototype and prototype early. In his Harvard Business Review article, Brown also says that prototyping doesn’t need to be complex or expensive. Designers can prototype with popsicle sticks, tape, clay, paper, or markers if they need to. The goal of this stage is to investigate solutions pitched in the previous stage. It is also important to note that groups outside the design team can test out the prototypes as well. This creates even more understanding and allows the team to see the prototype from an outside perspective. Lastly, once a prototype is ready to go, it is time to test it out. 


In this design stage, the prototype goes into a state of refinement to create the best product possible. That means that the team might have to go back to previous stages to fix or modify problem areas. The goal of the stage is to make the product even better than before.

Key Aspects of Design Thinking

Besides the five-step design process, there are key aspects that are critical in design thinking. The designers need to tailor their product around human-centered needs, they need to be creative, and they need to work together with their diverse backgrounds to tackle the project from multiple different perspectives.


Designers need to understand the person using the product thoroughly. They need to focus on their need and wants to create a better product.


Design thinking is a creative process. Innovators need to think from different perspectives, try new things, and develop many ideas to solve a problem.


Designers need to work together throughout the entire process to reach the full potential of the project. 

How It’s Relevant

Puma and FuseProject collaborated to eliminate shoeboxes and decrease their carbon footprint. This video is an excellent example of using the design process to fix multiple problems. 

Another product, Tile, helps users find lost objects. Place the small device on your keys, remote, or phone, and track it’s location when you misplace it. Even though it is a simple product, their designers are continually striving to make their product better than ever.  

Lastly, Apple is highly renowned for its strives for innovation. While their products look the same, they are continually making quality of life changes to improve their products. Recently, the fall detection software on the Apple Watch helped save a man’s life

IBM has an entire section on their website dedicated to design thinking. They also offer courses and certifications to help educate people in design thinking.

Tesla is always striving in design thinking. Recently, Elon Musk just offered $100 million toward the person that comes up with the best carbon capture technology. 


My idea of design thinking is that it’s a human-centered process of creative problem-solving. Designers investigate and define a problem then create ideas and solutions repeatedly to create the best resolution imaginable. The five-step design process and key aspects of design thinking can create some fantastic products. These inspirational designs from Puma and Tile motivate me to be a part of creating something so modern.

Further Reading

Anonymous. “Introduction to Design Thinking.” SAP User Experience Community, 24 June 2015, 

Brown, Tim. “Designers — Think Big!” TED, 

change, Let there be. “Why People Are at the Center of Design Thinking: Accenture.” WordPressBlog, Accenture, 7 Jan. 2021, 

Dam, Rikke Friis, and Teo Yu Siang. “5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process.” The Interaction Design Foundation, 

“Design Thinking by Tim Brown .” Harvard Business Review, June 2008, 

“Learn How Tile’s Bluetooth Tracking Device & Tracker App Helps You Find Your Lost Things.” Tile, 

Puma, director. Clever Little Bag by PUMA and FuseProjectYouTube, 3 Apr. 2010. 

Staff, Fast Company. “Design Thinking… What Is That?” Fast Company, Fast Company, 5 Apr. 2015, 

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