What is Design Thinking?

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The common denominator for major global brands such as Lego and Google to DOKK1 and the Danish public libraries is design thinking. So what is it?

 It’s become quite the buzzword in business, from large global brands such as Lego and Google to the Danish public libraries, design thinking has been used to structure innovation and development processes. So the big question is: What is design thinking really and what is it not? In this and future posts, we will give our take on what we are dealing with and give examples of how we use it in our everyday lives. First, an introduction to design thinking in this post, and then more details and examples will come continuously.

A way of thinking

A quick search on Google will give the impression that design thinking is primarily a series of fixed processes or templates for how a project can be structured. Most prominent will be the five stages: 1. Empathize 2. Define 3. Ideate 4. Prototype 5. Test.  We will return to them in a moment.

Because design thinking is not a fixed set of rules, a given sequence of activities, or a template for processes, that’s what it’s called: A way of thinking and doing that focuses on people or users; a method that has its roots in the design discipline. Ergo: Design thinking.

Start with desirability

Every development project should initially answer three questions: 

Do the users want it? Can we build it? Is there business in it (does it provide more value than it costs)? 

The order is completely deliberate because behind the banal first question lies one of the keys to understanding the core of design thinking, and why it has become so widespread in the past decade. 

If you have a few years of experience in the labor market, statistics say that you have become familiar with projects that haven’t worked out. Projects that, for one reason or another, could not be described as a success. It could be poor project management, changed market conditions, lack of support from management, etc., but as experienced design thinkers we would like to highlight one perhaps slightly overlooked aspect: Many projects simply do not solve a problem for the people who must use the solution or service that is being developed. Design thinking, therefore, assumes that the question of desirability from the users must precede whether we can build it and create value for the business with it.

The five stages

The last part of this introductory post is a return to the five stages of design thinking: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. 

Each stage calls for its own article, so that will come over the coming weeks. It is quite deliberate that we do not call it phases, but rather stages. Design thinking is an agile way of working, where we can constantly move back and forth between the stages. With that said, it all starts with empathy: putting yourself in the shoes of your users and using that as a starting point to define the problem or challenge that you have to solve. Empathy is a prerequisite for creating projects/solutions that are desirable and therefore more likely to be successful. Empathy is what forms the starting point for the project and the stage to which we most often return again and again during the development process. Working with design thinking starts and ends with the seemingly simple question that must always keep projects on track for success: Do the users want it?