A Short Handbook On Digital Product Design: Chapter Three — Design Thinking
If you have stumbled upon this post, you should know that this is the third chapter in a short handbook on digital product design. If you missed the previous chapters, they are linked below.
Table of Contents
I can not go much further in this handbook without discussing Design Thinking and its role in product design. While there is a lot to unpack in Design Thinking, I will give you a short overview of what it is and how it relates to product design.
Chapter Three: What is Design Thinking?
Tim Brown gives the most commonly used definition of Design Thinking. He states that…
“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” 
“More than a methodology or framework, design thinking combines the problem-solving roots of design with deep empathy for the user.”
So whether Design Thinking is an approach or more than a methodology, we can agree that Design Thinking is fundamentally about putting the user's needs first when developing products, experiences, and services.
This is not to say that the business’s needs and technical needs are not considered. Both viability (business) and feasibility (technology) are part of design thinking as shown below.
However, when you are implementing design thinking as a process, you always start from the desirability of the customer or user. What are their needs, wants, and desires? What are their pain points and how can we address them with a solution?
This differs from the traditional business-first mindset, which is typically driven by a definitive problem-solving approach that relies on proof.
Design Thinking takes an iterative approach built on trial and error. Luke Wroblewski’s post A Difference of Design explains this beautifully.
In summary, Design Thinking recognizes that there are different approaches to solving problems. Organizations are made up of individuals who share different sets of expertise and views of the world, but one thing everyone can agree on is the humans that inspire the work.
Design Thinking and Product Design
The principles and methodologies of Design Thinking heavily influence a product designer. Taking an iterative approach toward problem-solving, identifying critical questions by focusing on the user’s needs, and rapid prototyping are common across Design Thinking and product design as a process.
When thinking about our product, we need to start with the following questions:
- What is the problem?
- Who has this problem?
- What are we trying to achieve with our solution?
Design Thinking helps us answer these questions by allowing us to empathize with the user and turn our attention to the experience of the product as a whole, not just the look and feel aspect of design.
In the design process, the product designer uses Design Thinking to build an understanding of the problem and validate prototyped solutions with potential users.
A product designer well versed in Design Thinking always do the following:
- Take a human-centered approach toward developing products and services that users love, and the business’s bottom lines love even more.
- Follow an iterative approach toward problem-solving by running experiments and rapidly iterating.
- Take a multidisciplinary approach to consider the opportunities and constraints of desirability, feasibility, and viability.
- Lead with empathy while interacting with and understanding their users.
- Educate others on how to be a Design Thinker.
For additional information on Design Thinking, the Design Management Institute provides a good overview on their website. In the next chapter, we will discuss the design process, what it is, and how you can develop your own.