quote calligraphy under cup of lemon tea about Design Thinking, Thinking outside the box

What is Design Thinking

Design thinking is basically an involvement of extraction, learning and teaching to reach a goal set. Mostly design thinking includes being creative as well as innovative with various fields revolving around humans. 

Design Thinking has various positive attributes. These make it a chosen approach by various leading brands like Apple, Google, Samsung etc. Various well known Universities are picking up and including design thinking in their curriculum.

What is Design Thinking?

First and foremost, the principle for design thinking was described to the world by Nobel prize laureate Herbert Simon in his book the Sciences of the artificial in 1969. Design thinking comes forth as an approach to problem solving. It may involve developing an algorithm through brainstorming. It is also processing and fishing out various different approaches to solving a problem.

Design thinking can be defined as an algorithm involving a repetitive approach towards,

  • understanding your user,
  • presenting a challenge towards your assumptions,
  • and finally trying to change your perspective of looking at a problem. This step is indicative of trying to formulate different strategies that might have been overlooked at the first glance. 

One can also consider design thinking, to be an approach towards a problem but through the perspective of various solutions. It helps you hone your skills to be able to think ahead of the stereotypic methods of approaching a problem.

One of the goals of Design Thinking is to empathise with and observe the user at target. Most specifically, the approach starts with questioning. Some commonly followed questions include, constantly putting a “why” on the problem, putting a “why” on the assumption, and even putting a question on implications.

Design thinking institutes formulating and rearranging a problem in a way that is human centric. It is useful when tackling the problems that are run away from usual. Design Thinking results in the birth of various creative ideas in the brainstorming process. It provides a direct approach to testing the evaluations or solutions by various prototypes. Various experimental methods like prototyping, testing out the results and playing with various new and quirky ideas.  

Design Thinking’s Phases

Design thinking as a process has different ways of approach. That being said, all the variants follow the five phases of design thinking. There are many similarities among various approaches.

Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford first proposed the 5 phase model which is widely accepted. The five phases as described by the institute include,

  1. Empathise
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test


The first stage towards design thinking is learning to empathise with the problem solving you are faced with. The stage “empathise” might bring in the following mentioned steps,

  • Getting involved with an expert. Consulting with them regarding the problem solving.
  • Learning to be a keen observer. Keen observation brings insight.
  • Trying to engage with the people and seek out their experiences.
  • Getting involved in the observation, consulting and the process to empathize in a physical environment.

The few points above might play out to be highly important in understanding the issue at a deeper level. There is the step of empathy included in design thinking because a design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem solving. In the empathise stage, evaluated and well built balance time is provided to gather information and get insights. This stage proves beneficial to the forthcoming ones.


Define stage provides you the platform. You can bring in all the information from the empathise stage and arrange them in the best manner. This is the stage where you get to perform out the below points,

  • Keenly analysing the observations gathered in empathise stage
  • Utilising the gathered and analyse information getting to the root of the problem.
  • The problems are approached in a human-centered manner.

Define itself is the word indicator of its nature. You get to define the problem more keenly. This helps get hold of specific causes for the problem. You might need to illustrate your problems as user centered. Making it about your organisation or self will not help the cause.

The Define stage can be helpful to your design team. Coming up with creative ideas and features for problem solving is the endo of this stage. The problem might be solved by handy instructions for the users.

The Define stage will also define how progressive you are towards the next step. This might be in the form of, you being able to question to wrisk out ideas. While walking into the Ideate stage you will not be bankrupt on ideas to solutions. 


It is the stage where the new ideas start to spurt out. At the Ideate stage you have immensely analysed understanding of your users and their needs. This is a result of going through the Empathise and the Define stage.  It is about time for your team of designers to get into thinking creatively.

This will help easily identify creative and innovative solutions to the problems being faced. Also you have the liberty to change the perspective of looking into the specific problem. During this stage can come in handy the ideation techniques namely, Brainstorming etc. You can go for the best suitable ideation technique and move onto the prototype stage.


This is the stage where the design team gets down to providing product versions that are cheaper and laced with new, productive ideas. This version product or service is kept minimalistic and futuristic at the same time. These are supposed to be the test subjects for prototypes for the final product.

Team members then analyse, review and test these prototypes. For broader approach people outside the team also do reviews and tests. Based on the reviews, team consider any suggested alterations. Most appropriate ones are chosen and brought into immediate use for another prototype.


the designers as well as evaluators tests the completed products. These products are usually in the ones of those who passed the prototype in phase. Testing stands as the last but not the least of the five stage model for design thinking. As an iterative process, design thinking and the model or products tested during the fifth stage is again prone to evaluation and re-definitions regarding various problems.

The final product of the testing is also used to analyse some people’s behaviour regarding it. Not only is the final product search directed to people’s behaviour, it also tries to find how they feel and empathize with the product or service. Though the testing stage is provided with a passed out prototype, it is still subjected to alterations as well as refinements if required. This rules out the possibility of any minor errors.

One of the most important aspects of the phases of design thinking is, these phases are not hierarchical. There is no boundation to perform the phases in steps. Design Thinking gives complete liberty to perform certain stages parallel to another. Also, it does not matter if any of the status is performed earlier than the other one. The complete aim is to bring out an innovative product. The path taken to achieve that is really not of importance and needs to be constructed concretely.

How can Stereotypic patterns of thinking be our problem?

It can be a natural tendency to develop and the stereotypic patterns of thinking. This is a result of repetitions of various activities around and how one tackles them. These stereotypic or ingrained patterns of thinking lead us to regularly using them. They might prove to be very helpful at that particular instant, to solve the problem easily. But in the long run, we are held back from assessing our brains into analysing and bringing out new and creative ideas. This can hold back on approaching a problem solving scenario with new and improved solutions.

Design Thinking connects with ‘Outside the Box’ Thinking

Design thinking is a mindset, not a toolkit

Design Thinking is often considered as a synonym to outside of the box thinking. This level of resemblance is inspired by the very similar ways of working for both design thinking as well as out of the box thinking. Both the approaches are created and aimed towards solving problems less with ingrained solutions.  

Design Thinking approaches a problem with respect to the user and how they interact with the services or products provided. Design Thinking also takes in that extra effort to question various assumptions made and try to bring in relevant changes. This is accomplished by bringing out the questions significantly giving away various problems coming forth. Similarly in out of the box thinking you will find the questioning to be an important part of development and improvement.

Design Thinking is an approach to problem resolving

Design Thinking is also considered to be a repetitive approach towards various solutions of a problem. The process of design thinking is also not considered to be linear. This gives creativity a way into problem solving.  Design thinking consists of a team of designers constantly brainstorming new ideas, questioning the ideas and improving them for better results than before.

When a designer questions the well analysed results of the problem at the initial point, there are various insight and creative solutions to the same problem. This new approach of evaluating the parameters of a problem, helps designers acquire various alternative methods to problem solving.


Design thinking leans more to the creative and innovative aspect of problem solving and avoids the solid and usual methods to approach the solution to a problem. It is more of an iterative process involving constantly questioning the problem solving approach before.

Design thinking and “out of the box thinking” are really too difficult to differentiate, leading them to be synonyms. It gives you the flexibility to explore and develop certain methods which question and challenge the dominant ones. Design thinking is that bit of the digging which might bring an immense shift. Helps in notching up the user experience around a service.

Recommended books for design thinking

Article Credit

This article is contributed by Ms Rashi Arera. Passionate about writing, Rashi sees herself as an artistically inclined and intellectually dominant individual. Writer by profession, her goal is conveying knowledge while maintaining relatability.

More Articles from Ms Rashi Arera

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