Skip to content

What is Design Thinking – again❓Understanding Design Thinking, its Resilience and Importance of a Coaching Approach

By Karla Schlaepfer
Design Thinking, Innovation, Team Coaching

Revisiting the famous human-centered Innovation Process

Introduction: Design Thinking’s Resilience in Innovation

Some talk about the demise of Design Thinking. Yet, it’s evident that this human-centered innovation process not only retains its value but also holds greater potential when augmented with AI tools.

Understanding Design Thinking: A Primer

In in this post, I’m looping back and focusing on a short summary of the Design Thinking process. Design Thinking is an agile problem-solving framework. Unlike other innovation frameworks, design thinking uses empathetic observation to focus on real or uncovered needs first before diving into ideation and solution finding. In Design Thinking terms, the first steps are devoted to understanding the problem in the “problem space” before moving into the “solution space.”

The Roots of Design Thinking

The process of design thinking is derived from the methods that designers, architects, and engineers all use to do their work. This framework is used to discover and develop solutions to problems that may or may not actually be design specific. The actual “think from the user-perspective” concept has been around for decades, but in the past five to 10 years, IDEO, a US design consultancy, has championed the process as an alternative to a purely analytical approach to problem-solving.

Tim Brown, executive chair of IDEO:

Quote from TIm Brown on Design thinking.

Brown and the team at IDEO understand that effective design thinking entails an observation that leads to insights. Those insights then lead to products and services that make a positive impact in business and in our society.

The Impact of Design Thinking: Business Cases

Numerous case studies and resources demonstrate the tangible business outcomes achieved through Design Thinking methodologies.

For instance, companies like Airbnb have utilized Design Thinking to reimagine their customer experiences, resulting in increased user satisfaction and revenue growth. Additionally, organizations such as IBM have leveraged Design Thinking to drive product innovation, leading to the development of groundbreaking solutions like Watson. These success stories underscore the continued relevance and effectiveness of Design Thinking in driving business innovation

The Design Thinking Process

What are the five stages of the design thinking process?

Design thinking is broken down into a cyclical series of five stages. It is a flexible methodology, with each step building on the results of the previous one.

The five phases are:

  1. Empathize through observation
  2. Define the challenge
  3. Ideate as many ideas as possible
  4. Prototype a solution
  5. Test your work and iterate
Image showing the 5 steps of design thinking

1. Empathize through observation

The first phase in design thinking is to observe with empathy. Every problem has a unique context, one that’s defined by people. In design thinking, empathizing involves understanding the beliefs, values, and needs that make your audience tick. It involves observation—watching, listening to, and understanding your audience—and engagement—interacting with your audience, users, or customers.

To be effective in your design thinking, don’t just focus on your core audience. Conduct user research, collect user stories, and discover edge cases that you can observe and learn from.

If you can’t meet in person, request photos and videos of what is happening in their life to give you more context before the interview.

Then you can go into a interview/conversation with a better understanding and more empathy. As a result, not only will you connect with human beings, but the chances are higher that you will also ask the right questions at the right time.

Design thinking whiteboard template from Canva

2. Define the challenge

In phase two, process what you’ve learned from your audience; synthesize this into insights, connections, and patterns; define the challenge you’re facing; and move toward potential solutions. What does all the information you’ve collected have in common, and what does it say about your audience and what they need?

In design thinking, this process is described as establishing a point of view (POV): a problem statement that sums up the insights you’ve learned about your audience and clarifies their human needs. The solution(s) you eventually come up with will be informed by this POV.

One effective way to define your challenge is to ask a question based on your observations. Frame the question clearly without putting any solution within your question. Think about who you are trying to help, what their need is, and what impact the answer to that question will have.

3. Ideate as many ideas as possible

The Ideate phase is a brain dump of ideas, and nothing is off limits. Like any other brainstorming phase, we use creativity tools to come up with as many solutions as possible.

One of the main qualities of the Ideate phase is that it’s collaborative and participatory. The underlying point here is that everyone is creative in their own way—the brainstorming process can only benefit from having as many minds and perspectives as possible united in tackling the same problem.

4. Prototype a solution

Depending on your project, the Prototype phase could consist of a wall of Post-it Notes, a storyboard, a physical/digital item, or an interactive activity. By building a prototype, you make your idea tangible so that when you share it with your audience or users, you’ll get quality feedback and learn quickly if you and your team understood the problem.

Ein Bild, das Kinderkunst, Im Haus, Klebezettel, Spielzeug enthält.

Here’s an example, if you’re designing a new app, you can use a smart mock-up tool or use “quick and dirty” fast prototyping:

The process of building a prototype will likely help clarify the problem even more and offer new insights or new solutions that you hadn’t thought of before. In preparing for the final testing phase, it’s important that prototypes can be looked at or experienced by your targeted stakeholder.

5. Test your work and iterate

Testing helps you learn more about your possible solutions and more about your audience. Depending on how the testing pans out, it may lead back to any of the four previous phases; you may discover that you didn’t define the problem correctly, failed to ask the right question, or need to spend more time observing your audience. Or you might just need to refine the prototype a little. Most likely, testing will help you develop improved and/or advanced prototypes.

As with the Empathize phase, observing and/or listening to your audience is key here. Instead of explaining the prototype up front, let users experience it on their own. Observing this interaction will help reveal important insights about what works and what doesn’t. Then, encourage them to ask questions and give their feedback about the experience. Offering multiple prototypes for users to compare is another useful technique.

Any phase of the design thinking process can be repeated or redesigned as needed or taken out of order. It’s not meant to be a linear process but rather an iterative process in which you adapt to the unique requirements of individual environments and projects.

Benefits of design thinking vs. traditional problem-solving

You don’t need to be a designer to do design thinking. Rather, design thinking is a mindset and a team building activity that can be adopted – even during brainstorming sessions! According to IDEO, the more frequently that teams feel comfortable to try things out, the more likely they are to achieve their objectives(opens in a new tab or window). When you implement design thinking, it helps you take something ambiguous (like a complex problem) and provide a clear and simple process to get to a solution.

A table that compares design thinking and traditional problem solving.

Importance of a Coaching Approach in Design Thinking

Effective collaboration requires more than just putting a group of people together; it requires skilled facilitation and guidance to harness the collective intelligence of the team.

This is where a coaching approach becomes invaluable. A coach helps team members navigate through the Design Thinking process by fostering open communication, promoting active listening, and encouraging empathy towards end-users. By asking thought-provoking questions and providing constructive feedback, a coach empowers team members to explore ideas, challenge assumptions, and push the boundaries of conventional thinking.

Moreover, a coach plays a crucial role in fostering psychological safety within the team, creating an environment where individuals feel comfortable taking risks, expressing their opinions, and embracing failure as a learning opportunity. This psychological safety is essential for promoting creativity and innovation, as it encourages team members to share their diverse perspectives without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Would you like to explore how you and your team can leverage these tools to create more impact? Reach out to me Karla for a free consultation!

Karla Schlaepfer