Design Thinking ZAP 203


The objectives of this module are that participants will be able to:

  • Understand the 5 steps of design thinking
  • Use design thinking tools to identify and define problems
  • Have an understanding of Design thinking


Design thinking is generally defined as an analytic and creative process that engages a person in opportunities to experiment, create and prototype models, gather feedback, and redesign. Design thinking is a design-based approach to innovation that helps organisations identify, define and solve the problems facing their customers and other stakeholders, on a day-to-day basis. Creative thinking involves problem solving. The difference between creative thinking and logical or practical thinking is that you often look at the problem from an unorthodox perspective and your thoughts are less structured. It often passes through several phases and this is considered the creative thinking process.

By using design and creative thinking, you make decisions based on what future customers really want instead of relying only on historical data or making risky bets based on instinct instead of evidence.

Design thinking is Human-centred. Design thinking begins from deep empathy and understanding of needs and motivations of people. Design thinking is collaborative, and benefits greatly from the views of multiple perspectives, and others creativity to enhance your own ideas. Its optimistic with the fundamental belief that we all can create change no matter the hurdles (Budget, time, size of the problem). Design thinking is the confidence that new, better things are possible and that you can make them happen (Tim Brown CEO, IDEO).

The Design Thinking Process

What is Design Thinking? | 1:50mins

You will be exposed to a number of different models of design thinking, but in essence, they all follow the same philosophy.

Embracing design thinking means understanding that the customer is a real person with real problems, rather than a sales target. Instead of traditional market-research data, design thinkers dig for data that are user-driven and offer a deep understanding of a customer’s unarticulated needs. Design thinking helps re-frame questions in a way that expands the boundaries of the search itself.


The first stage of the Design Thinking process is to gain an emphatic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. This involves consulting experts to find out more about the area of concern through observing, engaging and empathising with people to understand their experiences and motivations, as well as immersing yourself in the physical environment to have a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved. Empathy is crucial to a human-centred design process such as Design Thinking, and empathy allows design thinkers to set aside his or her own assumptions about the world in order to gain insight into users and their needs.

Depending on time constraints, a substantial amount of information is gathered at this stage to use during the next stage and to develop the best possible understanding of the users, their needs and the problems that underlie the development of that particular product. Some of the key steps that can be incorporated in this space include the following:

  • Ask open questions to reflect any negativity on the user’s status quo.
  • Ask open questions to reflect on any specific bad experiences the user may have gone through.
  • Ask your user to act out the current experience. Observe any gaps, difficulties or breakdowns.
  • From user quotes and defining words, infer thoughts and beliefs.
  • From user actions and behaviours, infer feelings and emotions.
  • Fan out and expand the problem space by honing the questions being asked the user.
  • Look for deeper signals from the market or community of users.


During the Define stage, you put together the information you have created and gathered during the Empathise stage. You will analyse your observations and synthesise them in order to define the core problems that you and your team have identified up to this point. You should seek to define the problem as a problem statement in a human-centred manner.

To illustrate, instead of defining the problem as your own wish or a need of the company such as, “We need to increase our food-product market share among young teenage girls by 5%,” a much better way to define the problem would be, “Teenage girls need to eat nutritious food in order to thrive, be healthy and grow.”

The Define stage will help the designers in your team gather great ideas to establish features, functions, and any other elements that will allow them to solve the problems or, at the very least, allow users to resolve issues themselves with the minimum of difficulty. In the Define stage you will start to progress to the third stage, Ideate, by asking questions which can help you look for ideas for solutions by asking:

“How might we… encourage teenage girls to perform an action that benefits them and also involves your company’s food-product or service?”

Some of the key steps that can be incorporated in this space include the following:

  • Explore what the apparent needs of the market or community of users.
  • Explore what the latent, deeper needs of the market or community of users.
  • Develop insights via inferences from the exploration.
  • Look for emotional cues and signals.
  • Zoom in and zoom out on the exploration from community to user, user to community.
  • Change the perspective by re-framing the initial problem set.
  • Draw and sketch thumbnail visions to drive further design.
  • Design the problem.
  • Define the problem statement.


During the third stage of the Design Thinking process, designers are ready to start generating ideas. You have grown to understand your users and their needs in the Empathise stage, and you have analysed and synthesised your observations in the Define stage, and ended up with a human-centred problem statement. With this solid background yourself and your team members can start to 'think outside the box' to identify new solutions to the problem statement you have created, and you can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem.

There are hundreds of Ideation techniques such as Brainstorm, Brainwrite, and Worst Possible Idea. Brainstorm and Worst Possible Idea sessions are typically used to stimulate freethinking and to expand the problem space. It is important to get as many ideas or problem solutions as possible at the beginning of the Ideation phase. You should pick some other Ideation techniques by the end of the Ideation phase to help you investigate and test your ideas to find the best way to either solve a problem, or provide the elements required to circumvent the problem.

Key Activities, Key Resources, Key Partners, and Channels are defined in the ideation.

  • In ideation, the first thing is to unlearn what you know.
  • Be attentive and ready for new ideas.
  • Brainstorm by storming preconceptions using inquiry that questions the status quo.
  • Connect the dots.
  • Connect ideas across existing solutions or enterprise services already deployed in the market.
  • Connect ideas by associative log or analogy.
  • Connect ideas by using stories, patterns of behaviour useful to reach an outcome.
  • Connect ideas leveraging synchronicity to create meaning for the user.
  • Create focus and start to synthesize the model.
  • Get feedback from executives and intended market or community of users.


The design team will now produce a number of inexpensive, scaled down versions of the product or specific features found within the product, so they can investigate the problem solutions generated in the previous stage. Prototypes may be shared and tested within the team itself, in other departments, or on a small group of people outside the design team. This is an experimental phase, and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the first three stages. The solutions are implemented within the prototypes and, one-by-one, they are investigated and either accepted, improved and re-examined, or rejected based on the users’ experiences. By the end of this stage, the design team will have a better idea of the constraints inherent within the product, the problems that are present, and have a better/more informed perspective of how real users would behave, think and feel when interacting with the end product.

  • In Prototyping it is key to build to think.
  • Use role playing to prototype new behaviours.
  • Use story boarding to draw out new experiences.
  • Draw and create paper prototypes of the product or application.
  • Draw and create lo-fi mock-ups of new product or application.
  • Prepare to test these paper cut-outs with users to get feedback.
  • Synthesize a breakthrough.
  • Seek feedback


Designers or evaluators rigorously test the complete product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. This is the final stage of the 5 stage-model, but in an iterative process, the results generated during the testing phase are often used to redefine one or more problems and inform the understanding of the users, the conditions of use, how people think, behave, and feel, and to empathise. Even during this phase, alterations and refinements are made in order to rule out problem solutions and derive as deep an understanding of the product and its users as possible.

  • Build the prototype. Perhaps use a 3D printed model for testing if a product is involved.
  • Test the prototype. If necessary, use cutout prototypes in early testing to refine the product.
  • Gather feedback from the users.
  • Track what delights the users.
  • Track refinements suggested by the users. Be ready for the users to help you innovate!
  • Collect the data. Analyse and improve the design. (Measure the Results)
  • Visit any previous design thinking space as needed to refine the design until the product or service along with the corresponding business model is ready to be deployed as a new venture.

Key Points

Design thinking puts the user at the centre of the development strategy for products, services or processes. It combines rigorous analysis with creative, intuitive thinking techniques. In general, design thinking involves the following steps, which can then be repeated:

  • Identifying and defining the problem.
  • Brainstorming and evaluating potential options.
  • Developing the prototype.
  • Testing, refining and repeating.
  • Measuring the results.

Tools for design thinking

A number of tools can be used at various stages of design thinking below are some of those tools that can be used at each of these stages.





Further Tools that may be of use:


Created with images by Unsplash - "woman female thoughtful" • Unsplash - "mountain wilderness man" • Unsplash - "sea waves rocky" • RogerMosley - "beach pacific coastline ocean" • skeeze - "landscape scenic maligne lake" • amurca - "man artist street"

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