What is Design Thinking and why is it so popular?

Design Thinking is a design methodology based on applying a solution-based approach to solving problems, especially when those are complex or even unknown. One of the most relevant characteristics of this methodology is that it puts humans in the centre of the whole process and focuses on understanding their needs and problems.

Why it has become so popular?

The reality if that many organisations already use this approach because it helps them to adapt better to changing scenarios and situations, and evolve solutions quickly to adapt to new or growing needs investing few time and money on it.

The fact that it’s human-centered means that those who will benefit from the solution are the same ones that tell you how to better shape it. At the same time, the fact that this method is non-linear allows you to be more flexible and go back and forth easily and quickly, and keep adapting your solutions over the time as soon as a new need or problem is identified.

As a result, this is considered a very time and cost effective process to create more successful solutions, ensuring the success of it before it’s even properly created and at the same time, it allows you to be flexible enough to adapt to changing environments quickly and easily.

How do I know if it is useful for me?

Good question! Well, if you are thinking of launching a new project, maybe a service, a product or a solution, you should consider to follow this method, it will help you to be more agile in your process, making sure that what you do will be relevant for the people you are aiming at and avoid to miss out on any important factor for the success in the adoption of your idea.

It doesn’t matter the type or size of your project, your company, if you are an independent professional, a public institution or non-for-profit organisation. In fact, the more your idea aims to solve people’s problems, needs and motivations, the more this methodology becomes relevant to you.

How does it work exactly?

1.- Empathise. This is a crucial step in the process and it needs to be well-done to ensure the efficiency of the following ones. Observe, engage and empathise with people to understand their experiences, habits and motivations to gain a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved are the key goals at this stage.It is here where social research techniques are necessary as empathy becomes crucial in a human-centered approach like this one.This phase requires you to leave aside personal pre-conceptions, assumptions and ideas and make sure you have a broader and realistic view of the actual situation.You will have to be open-minded and a good listener and observer to make sure you aren’t missing out on anything that can be relevant for your project.

You can learn more about how to identify opportunities through experience maps.

2.- Define the problem. In this moment you summarise and put together all your conclusions from the previous phase in a way that you can define specific problems that can be solved. The problems need to be defined from a human point of view, here we don’t want to jump into solutions yet, we want to make sure we have a clear problem identified.Only once the problem is clearly defined we can then move to an ideation phase.

3.- Ideate the possible solution. Once the problem statement is clear, we can start thinking about the possible solutions. This is the moment to go wild and prioritise quantity over quality. The more we involve different people with different points of view and backgrounds, the more we can have a bigger variety of options and become more creative. Thinking “out of the box” is key at this stage.There are many different techniques for ideation. You find some of them here.

Concept testing will help you improve your initial ideas and prioritise those that are more relevant. This will save you money and efforts.

4- Prototype. This is when the experimental phase starts, it’s the moment to start building the most relevant ideas created, but in a way that is minimal cost and minimal effort. A “rudimentary” version of the idea, good enough to be shared and used.Each solution prototyped will be shared and tried in order to be investigated. Based on the users experience, the initial version of the solution will be accepted, improved and re-examanied, or rejected.The goal at the end of this phase is to have a clearer understanding of how end users are interact with the solution, how well the solution is accepted and used and what needs to be refined in order to provide the experience desired.

5- Test. The best solutions identified during the prototyping phase are then brought forward and tested in a more “real” situation or environment.  Although this is the final stage, the Design Thinking process is non-linear, which means that we will probably go into different iterations of refinement of the ideas until we can find a solution that successfully solves the problem we identified initially.


  • The Design Thinking process is non-linear and somehow “neverending”, even your final version will keep evolving over the time as you keep identifying needs and areas for refinement over following testing sessions.
  • This methodology has a lot of value to make sure that whatever you do it will be truly aligned with what the people it is aimed at will find it relevant and adapted to their needs in this moment.
  • At the same time, applying this methodology will help you ensure that you use your resources and focus efficiently, by being adaptable, evolving over the time, flexible and open to evolution and to change.
  • By creating an empathetic and flexible mindset, that focuses on the problem and allows space for creativity and evolution, you will be building a strong ground for success!