insights | 11.03.2020

What is Design Thinking? Common Applications

design thinking

Design Thinking is a concept geared towards catering for the user and their needs while challenging problems and creating solutions. It’s a human-focused method involving critical thinking and ongoing experimentation.

This has become a popular way of working (and particularly problem-solving) in recent years due to the rate at which changes and developments occur on websites, as well as other fields. It’s imperative to be on top of these challenges, no matter how complex, and have a toolkit available to face them head on – that’s where Design Thinking comes in.

This methodology is also being taught in universities in the UK and also prestigious US institutions such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT. The founder of Stanford’s, David Kelley even co-authored a book with his brother Tom Kelley on the subject. ‘Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All’ encourages the use of Design Thinking to produce creative confidence.

Design thinking

The five stages to Design Thinking

1. Empathise

When we talk about having a focus on the human using a website, it’s vital to have empathy and research what the user requires. This is key because what may seem simple to one person may be extremely complicated for another. That is to say all presumptions should be stripped from the situation in order to focus on the potential needs of all users.

In order to empathise with the user, you must gain a deeper understanding of what their problems may be and what they need solving. This initial stage is an information gathering exercise, so research the problem as thoroughly as possible and learn more from experts.

user experience

2. Define

All the work carried out and information gathered in the first stage will feed directly into what can be achieved in the Define stage. By collating all your data you can then analyse your findings and define the issues you’ve discovered your users are facing and also outline their needs. Remember to continually refer back to a human-focus as you work on defining the issue. Once you’ve got a clear idea of the problems – as well as the order in which to tackle them – you can then work on creating examples.

define ideas

3. Ideate

Once you reach this third stage, you’ll be ready to generate ideas and challenge any assumptions made – yes, you guessed it – by keeping that user-focus at the forefront of your mind. This is where ‘thinking outside the box’ comes into play and is probably the most exciting phase for creative thinkers.

Using the knowledge you’ve gained, along with the defined issues and user requirements, you’ll be able to think of different ways to look at the problem. From here you’ll be able to discover some examples of creative solutions to the challenges you’ve identified.


4. Prototype

The fourth stage of Design Thinking is all about experimentation, with the goal of creating solutions to the problems and further investigating what you discovered in the previous stages. As there will more than likely have been more than one problem identified, you’ll need to try to find the optimal solution for each challenge.

At this stage, Design Thinkers can now create a number of economical prototypes and experiment with how each one would fix the problem, or problems. Of course, the prototypes themselves may also create their own problems, so this is where designers can identify and improve what they’ve discovered.


5. Test

In the previous stage, you will have identified the best prototypes for the task at hand. Now is the time to create, test and refine the complete product. Can your creation deal with the initial problems you discovered during the very first stage of the process? The only way to know the answer to that question is to test, adapt and refine your product to meet the needs of the user.

This phase is only possible when you’ve followed the previous steps – everything you’ve discovered feeds directly into this final testing stage. Only after gathering as much information as you possibly can, identifying problems, brainstorming ideas and creating prototypes will you know what you’re looking for and how to fix the problem.

You may decide to revisit previous stages from here to further refine your finished product. Designers will test and improve until they are fully satisfied with what they’ve created.


This methodology is all about process, creativity and application. In simple terms, Design Thinking is a research process to help you to find your requirements, create examples, prototype them and test them before implementing – all the while remaining human-focused, flexible and open-minded.

It’s also a technique that, when used regularly, will become a natural process for whoever uses it. David Kelley said in his interview with Cynthia McKelvey about Design Thinking that creativity is like a muscle, if flexed a little bit each day, it will become stronger. He also said:

“What’s surprising to people is that when they have done it enough, they realise it’s inherent in them.”

If you’re a forward-thinking business looking for an innovative approach to your website – whether that’s something totally new or a site refresh – please get in touch and discover more about our design approach.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
go back Back