The Design Thinking Methodology

Design thinking is a human-centered problem-solving approach, popularized by design studio IDEO in the 1990s. In the past 25 years, it has expanded all over the world. From small start-ups to the biggest players in the market, to NGOs and government institutions. Successful teams have adopted the methodology and applied it to their most daunting challenges.

Apart from being a structured approach to problem-solving, design thinking is above all a mindset and an attitude.

It’s about how you approach problems and challenges and how you define solutions. The overall objective is to generate innovative concepts based on a deep understanding of what people need and want. The customer or target group is always at the centre of the different process phases.

The methodology consists of six basic phases: Understand, Observe, Point of View, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Constant and fast iterations with multidisciplinary teams is a must. There is a large set of tools available that can be applied in each phase. By putting the user and customer at the heart of the process and by involving them throughout the different phases, uncertainty can be reduced, and chances of success substantially increase.

Key in the first part of the process - the discovery part - is to understand the challenge first without jumping into solutions.

Phase 1 of the process - Understand - is about collecting and validating existing information, getting a common understanding and different perspectives on what you want to solve, and building assumptions that can later be tested and discussed with real customers or people who will be affected by the later solution.

Phase 2 - Observe - is all about research and understanding the target audience. The objective is to talk to real or potential customers or users in order to gain empathy, discover their needs, wants and desires and to explore their behaviours and context. This is done by talking to them, conducting interviews or through observation.

Phase 3 - Synthesis - is about analysing, structuring and prioritising all gathered information to connect the dots and to make sense of the research findings. The objective is to extract key insights and to turn them into actionable opportunities. This is done by deriving personas and defining the point of view that represents the main need of a persona, hence your target group.

The second part of the process - the design part - focuses on creating a solution that really adds value to the user.

Phase 4 - Ideation - is all about creativity and coming up with unexpected solutions that address the customers‘ real needs and wants.

Phase 5 - Prototype - is about making the ideas and solutions tangible and experienceable. From storytelling, role plays, paper mock-ups to building the idea with Lego - everything that allows you to interact with your target group is allowed.

In Phase 6 - Test - the objective is to test your prototypes with users and customers to receive feedback and learn in order to understand if the solution properly addresses their needs. It’s about validating assumptions and the desirability of the solution before investing more budget in the development.