DeSign Spectrum by Jing Gao

15+ Minutes To Design Thinking

Think creatively, innovate faster, problem solve instead of feature solve

I’m going to share my experience around Design Thinking with you. It has helped me think more creatively, innovate faster, and problem solve instead of feature solve — I hope it can help you do the same.

I recently sat in on a class @ The Designation being taught UX Design & Design Thinking by Zeke Franco. It was a phenomenal class. I know because never before has a 3 hour class gone by so fast!

The class itself was highly informational and inspirational — one exercise in particular really stuck with me around design thinking. People may assume that design thinking is something only designers do, but fundamentally it is problem solving at its core — anyone can learn design thinking.

Before I tell you about the exercise, it is important to note that the design thinking process (in its simplest form) can be broken down into these four steps (going back and forth between steps as necessary):

  1. Empathize
  2. Reframe & Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Test

Looks a little bit like the lean startup framework doesn’t it?

THE SETUP: At a very high level we were going to problem solve for gift giving in the exercise

Our class was divided into three groups based on color: blue, red, green; each group had square, triangle and circle marked members.

STEP 1: The Square members had to tell the rest of their team about the last gift they purchased (5 minutes)

My square teammate told us about how he was able to purchase Christmas gifts for his family and friends by buying posters from one of his favorite cartoonists. He bought everyone different posters based on what he knew about each person. As he told us his story, we empathized with him about shopping for a large number of people (it sucksss). We then grilled him about his selection process, criteria, and outcome.

We discovered:

  • he gave himself a $50 budget per person
  • wanted to be able to customize the gifts for each person
  • found he was attracted to the one-stop-shop stores to buy gifts
  • finished his shopping process in 10 minutes flat
  • he also knew each recipient and the kinds of things they liked
  • ultmately each recipient loved their thoughtful gift

STEP 2: The Triangle members had to tell the rest of their team about the last memorable gift they purchased (5 minutes)

I was the Triangle. I walked my teammates in thorough albeit quick detail of how I bought my significant other a snake charm necklace for our anniversary. They interviewed me and asked me some probing questions, but they discovered (I think):

  • I was willing to spend more time searching for the right gift
  • permanence and brand was a factor in my decision
  • it was a hassle for me to hop around store to store
  • browsing online helped save me time, but I still went into the store to make the purchase and physically deliver it myself

STEP 3: The Circle members had to tell the rest of their team about the last bad gift they received (5 minutes)

This one was fun. I think the entire class had good horror stories to share. My teammate told us how her mother made her the ugliest sweater known to man for Christmas, while the rest of her siblings received normal gifts. We honestly didn’t have to interview too hard for this one. The details came gushing out (go figure).

We discovered:

  • there was nothing my teammate could do, she couldn’t return it, couldn’t sell it, and god forbid — she couldn’t wear it!
  • the gift seemed even worse by comparison
  • she complimented the workmanship… but had to feign gratuity
  • the gift wasn’t (age) appropriate
  • she eventually donated it to a thrift store years later…

STEP 4: Broad reframing and synthesizing

Throughout steps 1 through 3, we empathized with the interviewee to learn more about their gifting process and experience. We gave ourselves a short 5 minute deadline to drill down to the most important facts as we interviewed, so we couldn’t ask unnecessary questions.

In 15 quick minutes we looked at the gift giving process from 3 different perspectives, saw the features people used, benefits & consequences received, and analyzed the unique pain points.

From those 3 specific perspectives, we reframed our data back in reference to the overall problem of gift giving. We defined what the primary goals were when people gave gifts:

  1. ability to personalize or give unique gifts
  2. convenience through one-stop-shops and similar processes
  3. consistency and quality of gifts
  4. high (warm) receptivity for gifts received

After defining our true goals with gift giving we dived into how that translated into user insights. Don’t focus on the features, instead focus on the benefits behind them and the true value to the gift-giver & gift-receiver.

By inspecting the goals we came up with the following user insights:

  1. gift-givers want the receiver to feel special
  2. gift-givers want to be viewed as a creative and thought givers
  3. gift-givers want to create a bond between themselves and the receivers
  4. gift-givers & receivers don’t want the receiver to be stuck with a gift they don’t want

STEP 5: What does this all mean?!

So we have defined the real problem through the goals & benefits desired, what next?

Well next we start thinking through what product or service our user wants. We framed it as follows:

[User] needs [a solution] to [the goal] because [of benefits and reasons]

So for example:

[Diana] needs [a way] to [find school friends personalized gifts] because [she wants to make all her friends happy but can’t afford to buy the #1 gift each friend wants]

Solve for [a way]. We have experience as the user and we just interviewed other users. We have defined the desired goals and benefits. Now we need to solve for [a way]. Through algebra we know to plug & play :)

STEP 6: Plug & Play — IDEATE

We started going through different ideas that could fit into the equation. We changed up different variables [ ] in the equation. We played around with the building blocks and thought through solutions that might work. Some of the solutions we came up with:

  • Secret Nick — an online variation of the secret santa gift giving process. Input your friends, set the requirements, buy through an affiliate store, choose to deliver in person or mail!
  • Purple Elephant — similar to Secret Nick, but instead of secret santa, we change the dynamics to virtual white elephant. Gifts are purchased virtually, position numbers randomized, an event triggers online for the reveal, once completed, the gifts are delivered to the final destination
  • Giftster — similar to many of the online wishlists available, but instead you play mini-games! As each user sign-ups they play a quick game of 20 yes / no questions of gift images on the left / right side of the screen. This fun and quick way helps accurately determine user preferences, which can then be used to drop hints when you want to buy gifts for friends (who also have an account)

These solutions could all potentially help Diana with her problem. The best part — they could be built mobile first and scale easily!

What solutions did you come up with?

STEP 7: Magic

Ok we have some neat ideas. I’m a thinker / designer / [insert some non-technical based background] I can’t do any of that… or worse yet I am technical but it still seems like an impossible task.

As designers begin sketching how their solutions would work, they remove the bounds of reality and instead replace it with magic. Something unexplainable? Magic. Something impossible? BECAUSE MAGIC!

I’m not suggesting you forget reality, but as you begin designing the solution just imagine what would be the best possible solution if reality wasn’t a constraint. With magic as your first explanation, slowly break it up into manageable chunks that could then be explained in reality.

For us it was the ability to psychically KNOW what each person wanted for a gift. Or at least how they could be satisfied with what they received.

For another example, think about the sending the first man into space… I wish I could stand on the moon! But it’s impossibru! It’s too far away…how would I survive? How do I get back?

Well… We know we can make missiles that are essentially small projectiles. What if we had a giant missile (read rocket) that had a compartment for someone to sit in? Travel no problem — check. Ok on surviving… what if I had a closed environment so no matter the outside conditions I’d be alright? Spacesuit no problem — check…

We often start with imagination before bringing reality into focus.

Wrap Up

Anyone can do Design Thinking.

Empathize with users of your product. Frame and reframe the problem in multiple ways. Define the problem through benefits instead of feature sets. Give yourself a definite timeline. Ideate through potential solutions for your problem and users. Test — rinse & repeat until traction.

Try using the above exercise to solve other problems for your team! Let me know the results :)

For more on design please visit:

If you want to talk more about the gift giving solutions or problems I would love to speak with (and potentially work with) you! @chenac89

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