Walking in the rain by Rupert Ganzer on Flickr

The Two-step Design Thinking Process

I often get asked to explain what design thinking is. I get invited to innovation forums, startup conferences and service design events where I usually have 30 to 40 minutes to explain what design thinking is and how it could help innovation departments, startup founders and customer experience managers. Half an hour of stage time is not much, but you can still demonstrate the basic principles.

The tough part is when you get asked what design thinking is at a networking event or worse at a dinner party. So now everybody has heard the word design and because it’s such a hot topic, all looks are at you. “Oh you are a designer?”. Well, yes and no, but I can’t possibly give one of my 30–40 minutes presentation to support my mixed answer. At best I have 30–40 seconds to explain what I do.

Such situations made me think “What is the essence of design thinking really?”

Design thinking is an approach to problem-solving. In the context of business development, it is often described as a business methodology for developing innovative, yet desirable solutions. I like to think of it as a mindset derived from the acts of successful and respectful business people, designers and inventors. A mindset, I can best describe by two verbs — understand and act.

Some people are naturally good at understanding — they are more observant, empathetic, analytical. Others are action-ninjas. Design thinking is about mastering both superpowers.

In design thinking we artificially divide the understand and act process into small steps:

  • observe,
  • define the problem,
  • reframe the status quo,
  • prototype and
  • test.

This is all done to facilitate the coaching process — to help people who want to teach design thinking and those who want to learn about design thinking. However, every self-respecting design thinking coach will tell you “It’s not about the process, it’s about the mindset!”

Most design thinking labs too would have signs like “Assume a beginner’s mindset”, “Embrace Experimentation” and “Fail often, fail fast” on the walls underlying the understand and act nature of design thinking.

Understand the situation, the people, the problem, the history, the trends and act in a swift, smart and considerate manner. Then understand what you did right and what you’ve missed and act again. Until it’s perfect.

What is the essence of design thinking according to you? What is your way of explaining it in 40 seconds?

About the author of this blog: Elina Zheleva is a Design Thinking Evangelist trained at the HPI School of Design Thinking and Stanford d.school. Previously she has worked in the European Aviation Safety Agency taking various roles in planning and controlling. Currently she is the editor and curator of Airport Hub & Passenger eXperience and an expert on passenger experience in air travel. She also works on bringing Design Thinking to Bulgaria and CEE where she originally comes from. She is the founder of designthinking.bg

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