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What is Design Thinking? - Definition, Importance, and Examples

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The success of any organization depends on customer satisfaction. Every customer has different requirements, and organizations must use design thinking to implement the requirements effectively.

According to a report by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, companies using design thinking methods saw a 30% increase in customer satisfaction and a 20% reduction in time to market for new products compared to traditional methods. Design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P Index by 219% over 10 years.

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What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a unique approach that teams employ to truly understand their users, think differently about issues, identify problems to be solved, and generate prototypes and tests creatively. This is particularly useful when tackling problems that are not fully understood. There are five main stages in the process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. It’s all about learning from users: questioning assumptions; re-framing problems; and creating innovative solutions to prototype and learn from.

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What Is the Importance of Design Thinking?

Design thinking enables companies and teams to maintain competitiveness by constantly updating creative solutions. It empowers the user or the team to tackle ill-defined or complex challenges. It encourages team collaboration and iteration, making way for numerous possibilities for the team. It enables them to experiment and find ways to rectify the ideas in the feedback and suggestions.

The importance of design thinking can be shortlisted for the following reasons:

  1. Innovation: the culture of innovation encourages teams to develop unique and competitive ideas.
  2. User-centric solutions: based on the user’s requirements and needs, it becomes more effective to design a solution based on the target audience.
  3. Problem-solving: A structured approach makes reaching a solution much easier and helps find effective ways to deal with complex problems by disintegrating the complex problems into manageable components.
  4. Collaboration: Design thinking motivates togetherness to reach a solution and brings together individuals with various skills to innovate and create.
  5. Adaptability: the repetitive nature of design thinking allows teams to adapt and accept changes based on surveys, feedback, and suggestions. 

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The End Goal of Design Thinking

The design thinking process is directed at satisfying three criteria: desirability (what do people desire?), feasibility (is it technically possible to build the solution?), and viability (can the company profit from the solution?). Desirability comes first, and then these lenses are brought in.

Desirability: People’s Needs

In design thinking, one begins by considering what people need, dream, or do. The team listens with empathy to understand what people want, not what the organization thinks they want or need. The team then considers solutions from an end-user point of view that can meet these needs.

Feasibility: Being Possible Technologically

Once the team has identified one or more of such solutions, they have to establish whether their organization can implement them. In ideal circumstances, every solution is feasible if an organization has unlimited resources and time to develop it. However, given the team’s current (or future) resources, the team evaluates if the solution is worth pursuing. The team may iterate on the solution to make it more feasible or plan to increase its resources (say, hire more people or acquire specialized machinery).

The design thinking process should not be too technical but rather team-oriented. This is because if the teams start with technical constraints, they may inhibit innovation.

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Viability: generate profits

It is not enough to have a product that is desirable and technically feasible. The organization must be capable of generating revenues and profits from the solution. For commercial entities and non-profit organizations alike, the viability lens comes in handy.

In conventional terms, companies first look at feasibility or viability and then search for problems fitting into them for the market. Design thinking, however, reverses this process by recommending that teams start with desirability before adding in the other two lenses later on.

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The Five Stages of Design Thinking

Hasso Plattner Institute of Design is a famous institute known as Stanford University d.school, which has pioneered the design thinking approach. The design process that they adopt consists of five stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. These phases are not necessarily sequential; often, parallel teams run them out of order and repeat them.


It is the team’s goal to understand the problem, usually through user research. Design thinking requires empathy because it allows designers to put aside their assumptions about the world to gain deeper insights into users and their needs.

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After gathering the data, team members go ahead and analyze this information, synthesizing it to define the core problems. These definitions are referred to as problem statements. Personas might be created by the team so that efforts remain human-centered.


Teams begin building upon their foundation, such as “think outside the box.” They brainstorm different perspectives on what could be done differently concerning a defined statement of the problem in finding novel solutions.


This is a trial phase characterized by experimenting. The goal is to identify, for each problem, an optimal solution that can be achieved. For instance, the team makes scaled-down, cheap versions of products or specific features

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Design Thinking Frameworks

Design thinking cannot be defined in one way or followed through a single process. The five-stage design thinking methodology described above is just one of several frameworks.

Innovation does not evolve linearly, nor does it have a well-defined formula. Global design leaders and consultants have interpreted the abstract design process in different ways and have proposed other frameworks of design thinking.

1. Head, Heart, and Hand by the American Institution of Graphic Arts (AIGA)

The Head, Heart, and Hand approach by AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) is a whole perception of design that integrates the rational, emotional, and practical aspects of creative processes.

“Head” symbolizes the intellectual component. In this case, the designers focus on strategic thinking that involves research as well as analytical thinking to ensure that decisions are purposeful.

“Heart” represents feelings. It highlights empathy, passion, and human-centeredness. This aspect is vital in understanding what users need to make sure that designs go beyond expectations.

“Hand” denotes putting ideas into practice; portraying concepts; turning thoughts into things; artisanship; and skills needed to materialize ideas into clear solutions. This also includes the person to be an expert in handling these tools and techniques to bring perfection.

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2. The Double Diamond by the Design Council

The name itself suggests that the double diamond model has two diamonds for each of the problem and solution spaces. The model uses diamonds to symbolize divergent-convergent activities.

In the ‘discover’ phase, which is diverging in nature, designers collect insights and empathize with users’ needs. Then, in the phase ‘define’, the team comes together to identify the problem.

Develop is where this second diamond is concerned with solutions. Here, ideas are brainstormed by a team. Delivering is the last stage when concepts are tested by the group and the best solution is implemented.

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Mindsets of Design Thinking: More Than a Procedure

Design thinking mindsets are the feelings, thoughts, and expressions people go through during a design thinking process. This consists of what people expect as well as their approach to design projects.

The core mindset for any successful team implementing design thinking is:

Show Empathy

Design begins with a deep understanding of people’s needs and motivations—parents, neighbors, children, colleagues, or strangers who live in a community.

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When you are in a team, nobody bears full responsibility for the outcome. A few great heads are always better than just one. Therefore, perspectives from diverse views are rich material for design thinking, while other peoples’ creativity enhances your own.

Be Hopeful

Have confidence that you will get positive results. It implies that even the biggest problems can be solved if we commit ourselves fully to them, regardless of the duration or resources involved. No matter how many constraints you have around you, there is always powerful design happening.

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Embracing Ambiguity

Being comfortable with ambiguity and complexity is the first step to success. It’s about trying things out and learning through experience. This is what design thinking is all about. It allows you to believe that new and better approaches can be found, and you can be a part of its development.

Curiosity Pays Off

Be open-minded to different views; understand that you are not the user.

Make Them Tangible

Putting an idea into a sketch is way more effective than making a detailed presentation or paperwork such as documentation.

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Design Thinking vs. Agile Methodology

Design thinking and agile methodologies are frequently employed by teams in project management, product development, and software development. Although distinct in their approaches, these methodologies share some common principles.

Similarities Between Design Thinking and Agile

1. Iterative Process

In design thinking, teams may jump from one phase to another, not necessarily following a given cyclic or linear order. For instance, while testing a prototype, the team might learn something new about their users that makes them realize they have to redefine the problem. Agile teams iterate through the development sprint.

2. User-Centered

Both agile and design thinking methodologies revolve around user-centricity. All design thinking activities put the end user at the forefront–from empathizing to prototyping and testing. The cycle of feedback from users is integrated continuously into Agile teams’ development.

3. Collaboration and Teamwork

Both methodologies place great emphasis on collaboration among cross-functional teams and value different perspectives as well as expertise.

4. Flexibility and Adaptability

Design thinking, with its focus on user research, prototyping, and testing, enables teams to be in touch with users to get continuous feedback. Similarly, agile teams respond quickly to refine their products according to user feedback.

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Differences Between Design Thinking and Agile

ParameterDesign ThinkingAgile
OriginDesign thinking is rooted mainly in design and draws on various fields: psychology, systems thinking, and business strategy.It primarily originates from software development and borrows from disciplines such as manufacturing and project management.
Primary FocusProblem-solving and innovative solutionsEfficient product delivery
Phases of ApplicationIt usually starts with the project, whose main goal is to define its problem, test it, and select its solution.It usually starts after a team has a clear solution. It involves delivering that solution and iterating on the live product continually.
Structure and DocumentationFluid process, less formal, and relatively less documentation.Structured and formal process with extensive documentation.
End ProductAn idea or solution, usually with a prototype, may not be tangible.A tangible, working product (usually in software) is shipped to end users.

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Design thinking is a powerful technique that helps designers, entrepreneurs, and innovators develop products and services that satisfy their customers’ needs. When combined with UI/UX design, such results can be truly astounding, leading to products and services that not only meet corporate goals but also give people what they need. It is an interactive skill applicable to various concerns and prospects. Also, check out our blog on DataStage Parallel Stages Group and Designing Jobs in the DataStage palette

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