Design thinking

Design thinking has been around since the 1940s when engineers, architects and businesses struggled to keep up with the ever changing technology and the way people interacted with new innovations. Over the next 80 years it has helped lots of different industries overcome “wicked problems” (a term created by Horst Rittel to describe complex problems that could have different solutions).

It consists of a set of guidelines to emphasis and learn about you user, define the problem, ideate to design the solution, prototype one or more solutions then test and repeat. It is a collaborative method that relies on people from different disciplines, backgrounds to bounce of each other and get a joint understanding of the problem and come up with solutions. At its core its a Human centered approach to understanding the user, prototyping, testing solutions and building on findings, until you have something new that you would not of discovered on your own, collaboration is key.

More recently it was initiated by David Kelly who helped Steve Jobs design several apple products. He set up a department at Stanford here is a virtual crash course from dSchool. He also set up the agency ideo which uses these guidelines to innovate products, businesses and creative. It involves applying human centered design to all aspects of business and life.


This is learning as much about our user as possible, talk to them and find out what they are looking for in an experience, learning everything we can about them and their thoughts, feelings and motivations.


Buying a train ticket or top up a card to use on public transport.

  • What is their thought process?
  • How do they know they need a top up or buy a ticket? It may be a last minute purchase or they may plan in advance.
  • How do they receive their ticket or how do they add credit to a card?

There are lots of insights we can take away and we need to think of the whole experience, the thoughts that the user will have along the way. Putting ourselves in the users shoes and observing how they complete a task will give us invaluable insights.


  • Assume a beginners mindset
  • What-How-Why
  • Conduct users with empathy
  • Build empathy with analogies
  • Photo and video user-based studies
  • Personal photo and video journals
  • Engage with extreme users
  • Build empathy with analogies
  • Story share-and-capture
  • Bodystorm
  • Journey map


This is where we collect all our findings from the empathise stage and saturate a space with post-it notes, scraps of paper etc these would include all the teams findings ready for discussion. Including collective images, notes, observations, data, experiences, interviews, thoughts, insights, and stories. We are trying to compose a problem statement which is a broad actionable problem that we can use in the next stage. We want to create user stories, personas a problem statement and how might we accomplish this questions and answers.

[User . . . (descriptive)] needs [need . . . (verb)] because [insight. . . (compelling)]


  • As a train user I need to purchase a ticket because I want to use the underground.
  • How might I ensure I always have a ticket to travel


  • Share inspiring user stories
  • Affinity diagrams
  • Empathy map
  • Personas
  • Problem statement
  • How might we


This is where you start to look for solutions to the problems we have defined. Trying to think of as many solutions as we can. Sketching them out quickly, using flows trying to sketch people into the process thinking of how they will achieve their goals. We are looking for quantity over quality at this stage. So we can quickly disregard pick and choose and iterate. This is where using a collaborative approach with people with different skills sets help to produce better ideas.

“Ideation is the mode of the design process in which you concentrate on idea generation. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes. Ideation provides both the fuel and also the source material for building prototypes and getting innovative solutions into the hands of your users.”, An Introduction to Design Thinking PROCESS GUIDE

The Interactive design foundation* states Ideation Will Help You:

  • Ask the right questions and innovate.
  • Step beyond the obvious solutions and therefore increase the innovation potential of your solution.
  • Bring together perspectives and strengths of team members.
  • Uncover unexpected areas of innovation.
  • Create volume and variety in your innovation options.
  • Get obvious solutions out of your heads, and drive your team beyond them.


  • Brainstorm
  • Braindump
  • Brainwrite
  • Brainwalk
  • Challenge Assumptions
  • Mindmap
  • Sketch or Sketchstorm
  • Storyboard
  • Analogies
  • Provocation
  • Movement
  • Bodystorm
  • Gamestorming
  • Cheatstorm
  • Crowdstorm
  • Co-Creation Workshops
  • Prototype
  • Creative Pause


This involves creating either a low fidelity prototype or a high fidelity prototype. Both have there advantages. A low fidelity prototype would include things like sketches and storyboarding. You can use programs like marvel to put these together to create a click through version very quickly. High fidelity prototypes are good if you need to get stakeholders involved and you want to create a more realistic version to test on users.


  • Prototype to decide
  • Story telling
  • Bodystorm


The test stage is composed of testing your prototypes on your users. This is where a high fidelity prototype is more beneficial as it will allow the user to get a better understanding of the experience. Don’t guide the user too much, ask them questions as they use it, observe and as follow up question.


  • Prototype to test
  • User testing
  • Feedback capture grid
  • I like, I wish, What if
  • Share inspiring user stories

Take aways

Design thinking is a collaborative process, you will never come up with innovative ideas just on your own. You need user feedback and people with different skills, mindsets and backgrounds to come up with the most innovative ideas. Pick and choose steps and mix them up they do not have to follow a linear approach. Repeat and iterate until you have a solution that exceeds your user needs.

References and resources.

Methods toolkit

Stanford crash course

Interaction design foundation

Design thinking movie

Invison and overview