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Design Thinking

Roy Kim
Roy Kim
Aug 29, 2019 · 7 min read

Having worked as a UX designer in the technology industry for 4+ years now, Design Thinking has become a natural process for me when solving complex problems. If you are an aspiring designer or even someone working in the field who wants a better understanding of Design Thinking, read ahead.

In this post, I will focus on high-level concepts and practical advice. There is a lot that goes into doing Design Thinking correctly, and if I were to elaborate on every detail, this would end up being a novel. If you have any questions you’d like to have answered in more detail, you are welcome to email me at thedesignmood@gmail.com.

Design Thinking is a method of problem-solving by taking a user-centric approach. Don’t overthink the term, ‘user’: your user is who you are designing for.

In the design community, some feel that the word, ‘user,’ is a limiting word: the argument is that it doesn’t accurately capture the complexities and qualities of being human. While I see the value in this train of thought, I believe ‘user’ is the perfect word. It brings focus to your subject that is using the product you are designing. The way that we make sure to design thoughtfully and with full consideration of humans and their unique conditions, is to apply Design Thinking.

There are six core steps to Design Thinking that is commonly referred to in the industry. I added one more: ‘DESIGN.’

How can you have ‘Design Thinking’ without ‘DESIGN’? 😉

STEP 1: EMPATHIZE

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People blurred on purpose.

The most critical aspect of Design Thinking is to empathize with the user you are designing for. Practically speaking, to ‘empathize’ means putting yourself in the user’s shoes: taking into consideration their wants, needs, goals, context, and pain points. The more you can capture about a user, the more effective the solution you’ll end up with.

It’s important to remember that the key to empathizing with your users is never to make assumptions. You may sometimes have to hypothesize about your users, but you should always validate these with user research to make sure you land the right design, for the right users (more on user research in a future post).

So how does this look like in application? Well, you want to interview the people that would use your product. In a real-world setting, user researchers often interview anywhere from 10 to 30 people. During the interview, you answer the below:

  • Goals: What does your user want to achieve?
  • Want: What does your user desire? What are ‘nice-to-haves’?
  • Needs: What is essential (must have) to your user?
  • Context: What circumstances/environment is the user in that may impact the design?
  • Pain points: What are annoying or dificult things that you can alleviate for your user?

STEP 2: DEFINE

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Once you have a solid understanding of your user(s), you apply what you learned from empathizing with your user to define the problem you are going to solve. When you go about setting problem statements, you want to avoid being too broad so that it’s impossible to solve your problem or being too narrow so that you limit your creativity and options.

Here’s one excellent method used in the design industry to help you craft the right problem statement.

How might we (HMW)

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HMW’s help you rephrase your problem statement into actionable questions. To make an effective HMW, ask yourself whether the prompt is too narrow so that it limits your design options, or too broad that it’s impossible to tackle. Here’s an example:

You are an e-commerce website owner, and a lot of people visit your site, but no one is clicking the buy button. So you want to make a more eye-catching buy button.

Now if you had phrased your problem statement as “how might we make this button blue,” you’ve just reduced your creativity to one solution: making the button blue.

Let’s look at “How might we redesign e-commerce?”. That is an excellent question but way too broad for the task at hand. You’re trying to improve your site not the whole industry (but it’s a worthy task!).

Here’s a better question: “how might we attract more customer attention to the buy button, to generate more sales?”. Well, you could make the button bigger, red, add some drop shadow, make it meow on hover, and so much more.

That was a silly example, but you can see how effective HMW’s are.

STEP 3: IDEATE

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Here is the most fun part of design thinking. You get to come up with the solution to your problem. Now depending on what the problem is that you’re trying to solve, you might use different methods of brainstorming.

For me, what works best is to write your problem statement on a whiteboard, grab a pad of sticky notes, and sketch out a bunch of ideas. The point here is not to be pretty, but to be quick and convey your idea.

After you feel like you’ve exhausted your brain, take a step back, and try to group your ideas into themes. Then vote on the 2–3 ideas you loved most and run with it.

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(from one of my favorite books, ‘THE SPRINT BOOK’).

A quick and dirty method I do a lot at work is called Crazy 8′s. You fold a piece of paper to create eight rectangles. Then sketch out eight crazy ideas and share them with your colleagues.

As you can see, there are many ways to brainstorm. The beauty of it is, there is no wrong or bad idea. You should appreciate your ability to be creative and embrace it.

STEP 4: DESIGN

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Now that you’ve come up with 2–3 ideas you’d like to make into reality, you design your solution. If we’re talking about web or mobile product, you’d use applications like Sketch, Illustrator or Photoshop to create the interface elements. There are countless options out there. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, I would recommend the Sketch app. It’s still broadly used in the design industry and does a little less damage to your pocket.

STEP 5: PROTOTYPE

Great you’ve reached this stage and beautiful mocks, but they’re static. You can’t press that ‘buy’ button and make it do the effect you want. Here’s where prototyping comes into play to make your designs come to life.

There are many prototyping tools out there; the ones commonly used in the industry are Invision, Figma, and Adobe XD. Depending on the project, I personally use After Effects or code it in HTML. But the point here is not which program you use, but how you can effectively communicate your ideas. Furthermore, you can make them interactive so that your testers can get a feel for how these products would manifest in the real world.

STEP 6: TEST

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You have finished building out your designs, and now you get to test it with your users. Get their impressions, get their honest feedback so that you can incorporate it into your designs. Design is awesome because it never ends. You can always make your designs better, and to achieve the best designs, it’s not about the designs that you love but what your users love.

STEP 7: LAUNCH

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Finally, you’ve iterated a few times based on user feedback, and you’re ready to ship it to the real world. You collaborate with your marketers, legal team, and developers to make your design a reality.

Whew, we’ve made it! Use Design Thinking to make your ideas come to life. Remember, to embrace your creativity and be proud of your crazy ideas.

Watch my video on Design Thinking.

Find me on Instagram @thedesignmood.

If you have any inquiries or just want to chat shoot me an email: thedesignmood@gmail.com.

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