The Design Thinking Approach: The What, Why and How

The Design Thinking Approach: The What, Why and How

Design Thinking. Another user experience buzzword. But what exactly is it? And why does it matter to any brand, big or small, and how are you meant to use it as a working strategy?

Admittedly, some thought processes in the design world can be a little faddy. The truth is, things are constantly in a state of flux. Some ideas are outdated before they even catch on. Others become soundbites, bandied around without really exploring their potential. That takes us back to our original statement. We love Design Thinking. Because it truly adds value and can be implemented whatever the life stage of your company and products.

Design Thinking is this: a process used to creatively solve problems. But it keeps your customers or users at the heart. The whole point of Design Thinking is that it’s a method used to create better products, services and streamline processes. Want to hear more?

Three Easy Steps

Click onto Forbes’ “Design Thinking And The Value It Can Bring To Your Organization” to be readily inspired. As it points out, products are the lifeblood of any business. Every other strategy, from people to processes, should be pinned around the product. 

Rather than looking at historical data to inform decisions around product launches and other strategies, Design Thinking actively engages with the users to creatively solve problems. The same article refers to research from McKinsey, revealing that companies who have engaged this technique have seen higher revenues, and shareholders have enjoyed a 56% increase on their returns. So, it makes business sense. 

But how does this approach unfold? What are the aims of Design Thinking? The three critical points outlined in the article include:

  1. Empathy with users: understanding their needs and motivations
  2. Observing users: seeing how users behave
  3. Defining need: solving the issue 

Broadly speaking, these 3-steps give you a structure when it comes to creating products that are well received. 

Do believe the hype

This might all sound very design-y. But in actual fact, the beauty of this approach is that it can be applied across a huge variety of situations. As The Interactive Design Organisation points out, everyone from innovators in literature to science has practiced it. 

Not only that, all the big brands rely on Design Thinking to stay ahead of the game. To name drop just a handful, there’s Apple Samsung, Netflix, Capital One, and The Guardian. But more on that in a moment. You get the idea that it’s a popular concept, albeit, and we say again, not a faddy one.  

Ultimately, there are five distinct phases to Design Thinking, but it’s a fluid process. That means that these five steps don’t necessarily flow in the same order each time. The Interactive Design Organisation demonstrates that people by nature are susceptible to ingrained patterns of thinking. So, this process sets to challenge that. To bring fresh minds to a perceived problem. To use creative thinking to solve it. 

What’s good for The Guardian …

All this brings about a valuable offering. The opportunity to bring about change on an organisational level and develop products and services that hit the spot every time. Sounds too good to be true. Or too involved to bother about? Just check out The Guardian’s story to be inspired.

They recently changed the look and feel of their website. But importantly, they also reformatted its navigation. Why? Because the new “pillars” they created related to the topics people would search for, rather than reflecting the newsroom’s segregations. In line with this, it also changed its funding model. 

With the death of printed press spreading far and wide across the world, this was key for its survival. Unsurprisingly, they won numerous awards for their “reader-centric design.” But they also show us all what’s possible. If a stalwart in one of the oldest media industries can embrace seismic change with aplomb, we may ask, what’s stopping us? 

Talking “strategy”

Understanding the principles and the power of Design Thinking certainly marks an important first step for any business considering the journey. But getting to grips with the strategy is what everyone from the design team, right through to the stakeholders, needs to do to make it a success.

Those aforementioned five steps to Design Thinking are as follows:


  • Empathise
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test


But remember, they don’t have to run in that order. In fact, the fluidity of thought is of course, what makes this whole thing work so well. But to implement these stages, you need to embrace the idea of being on a journey of discovery with an open mind. 

In conclusion …

Design Thinking is very much the guiding light when devising strategies that will take companies and their products to another level. Yes, the global leaders subscribe to it without hesitation, but that doesn’t mean that it’s just something reserved for big brands. Any business can adopt a Design Thinking approach.

The key is to get under the skin of what Design Thinking is and do your research. Leaning on an expert and getting their guidance is essential if you’re a beginner. And keeping an open mind, as well as putting your user front and centre to any plans are the essential criteria that make the whole thing work. 

But if you do, and do it well, there’s no going back to old-hat ways of working. And that’s why we’d be so bold as to say that Design Thinking is just what any brand needs to stay fresh and on top of their game. 

Want a fresh design thinking approach? Have a chat with our team to see how we can help freshen up your UX design. Contact us today for more information.

Andrew Machin
Andrew Machin

With over 15 years’ experience in web design and digital marketing Andrew has helped many brands, both in the UK and US, create exceptional digital experiences, from websites to in-store retail experiences, such as John Lewis, Jet2, Virgin Holidays and Interflora.

Through the success of such projects Andrew has received accolades that include high-profile awards that span innovation, strategy, design and results such as the Dadi Grand Prix Award and the Digital Impact Award for Innovation.

This experience has led to Andrew judging digital design awards, been featured in .net magazine, lecturing at Leeds university and speak at seminars and conferences across the UK.

Follow Andrew @The_Machin

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