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Design Thinking For Effective & Innovative Problem Solving - Heather Rieder
Design Thinking

Design Thinking For Effective & Innovative Problem Solving

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking originated as a way to teach engineers how to think creatively in the way that designers do, in order to solve problems. It became increasingly popular with the rise of human-centered design in the 80s and was then taught at Stanford University’s It is an ideology and intentional process of collaboration and discovery to arrive at meaningful, relevant solutions that have a positive impact. Using design processes with a structured approach, design thinking serves to generate and develop new ideas and builds an empathetic framework for transforming difficult challenges into positive solutions.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Why is Design Thinking Important?

As humans, we are instinctually empathetic and collaborative. Using these inherent qualities as the foundation in the design process can illuminate revelatory insights to guide design with intention, and help to create meaningful products and experiences. Businesses and individuals that implement design thinking into their core processes can effectively create better user experiences and products, and discover innovative solutions to difficult challenges.

What Makes Up The Design Thinking Formula?

The Design Thinking framework is made up of 5 actionable steps aimed at bringing together diverse perspectives and driving innovation.


Empathy is the foundation of the design thinking approach. By learning and understanding the values and needs of your user you are better able to uncover valuable insights necessary to create products that meet the user’s needs.

How to empathize with your users:

  • OBSERVE – What are the behaviors of your users in their everyday lives?
  • ENGAGE – Interview and interact with users to get an idea of their needs and motivations.
  • IMMERSE – Experience for yourself what a day in the life of your user is like.


Once you have gathered your empathy findings you can begin to develop insights and create a problem statement or Point Of View (POV). Creating a POV goes beyond simply defining the problem by framing the problem around your specific users. 

Developing a strong POV is necessary to clearly define your challenge in a meaningful way. At this point, you are then able to outline the challenge into an actionable problem statement to begin the brainstorming process and generate ideas for potential solutions.

Creating a POV

Become a storyteller and tell a great user-centered story using emotion to connect ideas with people.

  • Who is your user? Note specific details. Use insights focused on a specific user rather than a demographic ie; User Persona
  • What are their underlying needs?
  • Identify a powerful surprise insight that prompted you to take a different perspective. Why is it insightful?
  • What would be transformative for your user based on the insights and observations you’ve gathered? (that doesn’t pinpoint a specific solution)
  • How can you frame this perspective to generate lots of ideas for brainstorming?


The goal of ideation is to cast a wide net of concepts, ideas, and outcomes rather than defining a specific focus. Move from identifying problems and challenges to exploring possible solutions. From this broad reach of ideas, you can create prototypes for testing with users. 

Using your design challenge and POV statement as a starting point, generate smaller actionable concepts and ideas – ie; “How might we…” questions to open up the landscape of solutions for further investigation with prototypes. This will allow you to navigate from obvious solutions to innovative possibilities.


If working in a group: create a successful environment for brainstorming. Setting up a space of trust where everyone feels safe and heard is essential to generating the most creative ideas. 

A great way to start a brainstorming session is by having everyone in the group write down ideas individually first, and then sharing those ideas one at a time with the group afterward. This enables diverse ideas and prevents certain ideas from setting the direction of the entire brainstorm. Warm up with activity-based exercises before the brainstorm, and then come up with as many ideas as possible. Even if the ideas seem farfetched, they may inspire useful insights. If possible, get clients or stakeholders involved in the process to learn what is important and valuable to them.


If working individually, mindmaps are a great way to sort through more obvious ideas to arrive at more innovative, meaningful ideas. Start with a problem statement as a circle in the middle of a piece of paper, and then write down related connections branching out from that concept. These connections should inspire new ideas, which can become new circled nodes that inspire further ideas, creating a web of concepts and possibilities. You can also reframe the topic, creating new mindmaps to generate more ideas.


A prototype takes ideas from concepts into the real world. It can be anything that takes physical form ie; post-it map, object, activity, etc. Make sure that people can interact with and experience the prototype. In the early phases, it is best to keep prototypes inexpensive and low fidelity as you are still developing ideas. 

The goal of prototyping is to test hypotheses and functionality and gain further insights into problems and experiences to arrive at the most successful solutions. Testing different variables will help you deepen your understanding of the user to create a more empathetic solution to their needs.

Testing specific variables rather than a complete mock-up is useful to keep the focus on solving one particular aspect of the problem, and will save time and money in the long run. Identify one variable of your concept or idea and build a few different iterations to test. Keeping your prototypes low fidelity in the beginning stages keeps the focus on the questions and concepts being tested rather than getting stuck on the overall design.  

Some examples of Low Fidelity prototypes:

  • Wireframe
  • Sketches
  • Mood Board
  • User Flow


In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.

- Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki

In the testing phase, you will gather feedback, refine ideas, concepts and solutions, and continue to get to know your user. Testing prototypes with real users allows you to refine your prototypes and solutions, and truly understand the people you are designing for. 

Keeping a beginner’s mindset opens you up to a wider range of possible design directions and helps to put aside any preconceived notions, assumptions and personal beliefs that may be misconceptions that could ultimately limit an empathetic viewpoint of your user.

Be curious, question everything, and observe users without placing judgments on their actions or decisions. Observe and engage users without guiding them through the prototype. Allow them to navigate and experience the prototype giving only the basic context needed to understand what to do.

Prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong.

- Stanford

Non-Linear Thinking

Visualize the Design Thinking process as a wavelength of varying amplitude. It undulates between generative (flaring) and selective (focusing) phases. Reaching broad for ideas and then focusing on specific aspects to prototype and test, continuously making observations and collecting insights along the way. Concepting in this way makes room for new insights and observations to be further explored at any point in the process to identify and realize the most empathetic, meaningful user experience. The design thinking process is not necessarily linear. Every step in the process allows you to rethink or reframe the problem if necessary to arrive at the most effective solution.

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