5 Secrets to Design Thinking



Empathize mode

Empathy is the foundation of a human-centered design process. To empathize, you: Observe. View users and their behavior in the context of their lives. Engage. Interact with and interview users through both scheduled and short ‘intercept’ encounters. Immerse. Experience what your user experiences.


Define mode

The define mode is when you unpack and synthesize your empathy findings into compelling needs and insights, and scope a specific and meaningful challenge. It is a mode of “focus” rather than “flaring.” Two goals of the define mode are to develop a deep understanding of your users and the design space and, based on that understanding, to come up with an actionable problem statement: your point of view. Your point of view should be a guiding statement that focuses on specific users, and insights and needs that you uncovered during the empathize mode.

More than simply defining the problem to work on, your point of view is your unique design vision that you crafted based on your discoveries during your empathy work. Understanding the meaningful challenge to address and the insights that you can leverage in your design work is fundamental to creating a successful solution.


Ideate mode

Ideate is the mode of your design process in which you aim to generate radical design alternatives. Mentally it represents a process of “going wide” in terms of concepts and outcomes — it is a mode of “flaring” rather than “focus.” The goal of ideation is to explore a wide solution space — both a large quantity of ideas and a diversity among those ideas. From this vast depository of ideas you can build prototypes to test with users.


Prototype mode

Prototyping is getting ideas and explorations out of your head and into the physical world. A prototype can be anything that takes a physical form — be it a wall of post-it notes, a role-playing activity, a space, an object, an interface, or even a storyboard. The resolution of your prototype should be commensurate with your progress in your project. In early explorations keep your prototypes rough and rapid to allow yourself to learn quickly and investigate a lot of different possibilities. Prototypes are most successful when people (the design team, the user, and others) can experience and interact with them. What you learn from those interactions can help drive deeper empathy, as well as shape successful solutions.


Test mode

Testing is the chance to get feedback on your solutions, refine solutions to make them better, and continue to learn about your users. The test mode is an iterative mode in which you place your low-resolution artifacts in the appropriate context of the user’s life. Prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong.


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