Design Thinking: The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Creative Problem Solving

Simon Tratnik
  • 13
    min read
  • Simon Tratnik
    May 3, 2023

If you've stumbled upon this article, you might have heard the term "Design Thinking" floating around, but you're not quite sure what all the buzz is about.

Or maybe you've been told it's the key to innovative solutions, but you're still scratching your head, trying to figure out what it really means. Well, you're in luck! We're here to break it all down for you in simple, digestible terms.

So, grab your favorite snack, find a comfy spot, and get ready to dive into the world of design thinking. We promise that by the end of this read, you'll not only know what design thinking is, but you'll also be eager to start using it to unleash your own creative potential.

Let's start by answering that burning question on everyone's mind:

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a creative problem-solving process that centres around the needs and experiences of the end-users. It strives to balance what users find desirable, what technology can achieve, and what makes business sense. This human-centric innovation process aims to bring solutions to life by closely understanding and aligning with real users' thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

Moreover, Design Thinking is an iterative and non-linear process which encourages collaboration between designers, non-designers and users. This process fosters a deeper understanding of user needs and frustrations, ultimately leading to more effective solutions.

Design Thinking process is also good for finding alternative solutions to the problem.

Why is Design Thinking Important?

With the rapid growth of technology and increasing user expectations, it has become essential to place your users at the heart of your design process. Design thinking allows you to explore a wide range of possible solutions, ensuring that you select the best option for your specific target audience. This approach helps you create products and services that are not only functional and reliable but also appealing and enjoyable for users.

Companies that adopt a design-led strategy are proven to outperform their competitors. They enjoy increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and even revenue growth due to the engaging and valuable experiences they provide.

By utilizing design thinking methodologies in your creative process, you not only improve your chances of delivering successful outcomes but also contribute to the overall growth of your organization.

The importance of design thinking lies in its ability to reframe problems from a human-centered perspective, explore innovative ideas, and ultimately create solutions that satisfy users' needs. Incorporating design thinking into your approach can genuinely benefit you and your organization in today's highly competitive landscape.


Design Thinking process is not a strictly linear process, but it's iterative process.

The Origins of Design Thinking

Brief History

Design Thinking framework has evolved over the years to become a creative problem-solving approach that puts users at the center of the process. It began in the 1970s when the principles of design thinking started to emerge, largely influenced by cognitive scientist Herbert A. Simon's work in his 1969 book, The Sciences of the Artificial.

Key Influencers and Contributors

Herbert A. Simon's ideas in the 1970s laid the foundation for many key principles of design thinking. However, various other individuals and organizations have contributed to its development. David Kelley, the founder of IDEO and often referred to as the godfather of Design Thinking, played a vital role in its popularization.

Evolution of Design Thinking as a Discipline

Over the years, design thinking has grown from a primarily academic field to an applied process used by diverse teams and organizations. Today, it involves a non-linear, iterative process consisting of five phases: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

As a discipline, design thinking has expanded its scope to include not just product and service design but also organizational culture, business strategy, and social impact. As you dive deeper into your design thinking journey, you will discover that its methods and principles can be applied across various industries, sectors, and challenges to create meaningful, user-centered solutions.

A visual representation of the five stages of Design Thinking - Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. The image depicts the sequential process and methodologies used to address user needs effectively, and understand the reasons behind high workload on the customer support team. It emphasizes empathy-based insights, defining user challenges, ideation of multiple solutions, creation of prototypes, and iterative user testing to ensure the effectiveness of solutions and streamlined user experience.

The Five Stages of Design Thinking

In this guide, we will introduce you to the five stages of Design Thinking. These stages are crucial in helping you address user needs and find the best possible solutions. Let's explore each stage in detail.


Empathy is the foundation of Design Thinking. In this stage, your goal is to understand the users' needs and gather insights by engaging with them. Some techniques for empathizing with users include conducting interviews, observing their behavior, and immersing yourself in their environment. These methods will allow you to capture the users' perspectives and experiences.


Once you have gained a deep understanding of your users' needs, it is time to identify the core problem. By analyzing the collected data, you can develop a clear and concise problem statement. This statement should articulate the challenge your users face and outline the scope of the project. Defining the problem accurately helps you establish a direction for the next stages of Design Thinking.



With a well-defined problem in hand, it is time to generate ideas for potential solutions. In the ideation stage, you will brainstorm as many ideas as possible, encouraging creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Techniques such as mind mapping, sketching, or analogy thinking can help you come up with unique and innovative solutions. Remember, this stage is about quantity, not quality, so let your ideas flow freely.


The next step in the Design Thinking process is to create a physical or digital representation of your most promising ideas. Prototypes can range from simple sketches to interactive demos, depending on the nature of the solution. Building a prototype allows you to test the feasibility and effectiveness of your ideas, and it enables you to iterate and refine them based on feedback and observations.


In the final stage - the testing phase, you will test your prototypes with real users to gather feedback and insights. This stage involves conducting one-on-one user testing sessions or launching small-scale pilots. Collecting user feedback helps you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your solutions, allowing you to make any necessary improvements. Analyzing the results and iterating on your prototypes is essential to ensuring your solution meets the users' needs effectively.

Key Principles of Design Thinking

In this section, we will explore more in depth the key principles of design thinking that you should keep in mind while working on your projects. These principles include:

Human-Centered Focus

Design thinking revolves around understanding the user's needs, emotions, and behaviors. You need to empathize with your users and prioritize their experiences when designing solutions. By doing so, you will create solutions that are relevant, valuable, and inclusive for the people using them.

Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Approach

Collaboration is key in design thinking, as it promotes the exchange of ideas and perspectives among team members. Having an interdisciplinary team that consists of members with diverse skills and backgrounds can foster creativity and innovation. Together, you can generate a wider range of possible solutions and make more informed decisions.

Embracing Failure and Learning from It

Design Thinking methodology encourages the acceptance of failure as a necessary part of the process. Mistakes and setbacks can provide valuable insights that guide your team towards better solutions. You should create a safe environment where team members feel comfortable voicing their opinions, experimenting, and learning from their failures.

Experimentation and Iteration

Continuous experimentation and iteration are at the heart of design thinking. Testing and refining ideas through prototyping helps to identify potential roadblocks and address them early on. Remember to stay flexible and open to change as you iteratively work through your project, learning and adapting your solutions as needed.

Mindset of Abundance

A mindset of abundance means being humble enough to believe that there are multiple possible solutions to any given problem. This optimistic outlook encourages you to keep ideating and exploring new possibilities. By expecting more positive outcomes, you can foster an environment where creativity thrives, and innovative solutions emerge.

Design Thinking in Action in Real-World

In this section, you will discover how design thinking has been applied to solve real-world challenges in three different industries. These are case studies from GE Healthcare, Netflix, and UberEats.

GE Healthcare

In order to enhance their products, GE Healthcare utilized design thinking for a user-centric approach. GE Healthcare reimagined its high-tech medical equipment - specifically, its magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. Children and their parents were observed and interviewed to identify the key pain points during the MRI process.

As a result, they identified that many children were scared of the large machines, leading to increased anxiety and, often, the use of sedation. To solve this issue, GE Healthcare collaborated with a children's theater group to create engaging, themed MRI machines. This new approach significantly reduced anxiety levels in children and decreased the need for sedation during the MRI process.


Netflix is a prime example of how design thinking can help refine a product or service. The company consistently uses design thinking to evaluate its user interface, content recommendation engine, and customer experience. As a result, Netflix has become one of the most popular streaming services worldwide.

Netflix iterates extensively through prototyping and testing, ensuring that users can navigate the platform with ease and efficiency. By continuously improving the user experience through design thinking, Netflix ensures that its subscribers find content they love, keeping them engaged and satisfied with the service.


When Uber wanted to enter the food delivery market, they used design thinking to develop their UberEats platform. The company focused on understanding the needs of users - both delivery drivers and customers - and worked to streamline the order and delivery process as efficiently as possible.

Through empathy and observation, Uber identified that accurate delivery times and easy order tracking were vital for users. They prototyped and tested various solutions, leading to the successful execution of their food delivery service, UberEats. By applying design thinking principles, UberEats has become a major player in the competitive food delivery industry, providing a valuable service to both customers and delivery drivers.

The design thinking process and design sprints are different from the product development process.

How is Design Thinking different from Design Sprint and Agile?

When navigating the world of design and problem-solving, you might come across various approaches like Design Thinking, Design Sprints, and Agile. Understanding the differences between these methods will help you choose the most suitable option for your needs.

Design Thinking is a mindset. It's about having empathy towards user needs, embracing creativity, and using an iterative process to generate innovative solutions. Design Thinking allows you to challenge assumptions and redefine problems with the ultimate goal of understanding the end users better.

The Design Sprint, on the other hand, is a process that translates the philosophies of Design Thinking into a structured workflow. It's like a powerful recipe that combines elements from business strategy, innovation, behaviour science, and Design Thinking concepts to test and refine solutions quickly. Design Sprints are ideal when you are looking for a focused, rapid approach to solving a specific problem.

Agile is an ongoing structured way of work that guides project development. It's a workflow for teams to communicate effectively, run meetings, implement tasks, and decide on priorities. Unlike Design Sprints, which are focused on a one-off process, Agile aims at continuously improving your projects. Agile as a workflow guide doesn't conflict with how people work in Design Sprints or Design Thinking.

Read more: Design Thinking vs Agile Sprints vs Design Sprints: Key Differences and How to Use Them

In ideation phase or solution space, team is trying to solve problems by generating ideas that could potentily solving problems.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Design Thinking?

Let's explore some advantages and disadvantages of design thinking. Understanding the pros and cons will help you decide when and how to incorporate design thinking into your projects.

Cons of Design Thinking

While design thinking is a valuable approach to problem-solving, you should be aware of its limitations:

  • Subjectivity: Although it emphasizes empathy and understanding user needs, design thinking relies on the human-centric perspective, which can lead to subjectivity in the decision-making process.
  • Resource-intensive: Engaging in design thinking requires time, effort, and expertise. You may need to invest in research, prototyping, and user testing to arrive at an ideal solution.
  • Resistance to change: Participants in the process may have a natural resistance to change or may be hesitant to adopt new ideas presented through design thinking, especially in traditionally structured organizations.

Pros of Design Thinking

Despite its drawbacks, design thinking offers numerous benefits:

  • Human-centric: Design thinking takes a user-first approach, ensuring that products, services, and experiences are tailored to real user needs.
  • Creativity and innovation: By leveraging empathy, curiosity, and collaboration, design thinking fosters an environment conducive to creativity and innovation, enabling you to develop novel solutions to complex problems.
  • Action and adaptation: Design thinking encourages iterative development and continuous improvement through prototyping and testing, resulting in more adaptable outcomes.
  • Improved communication and collaboration: Design thinking unites diverse team members around a shared goal, fostering effective teamwork and collaboration.

As you explore design thinking, consider the pros and cons in the context of your specific project objectives and organizational structure. Being aware of these factors will help you make informed decisions and optimize your use of design thinking as you continue to develop your skills.

In prototype stage teams understand the problem space and uses solution based approach to address challenge at hand.

Challenges and Criticisms of Design Thinking

As a beginner, you might have come across various challenges and criticisms related to design thinking. It is essential to understand these aspects to have a well-rounded view of the methodology. In this section, we will discuss common misconceptions and how you can address these criticisms constructively.

Common Misconceptions

One of the most common misconceptions about design thinking is that it is exclusively for designers. However, this process emphasizes a user-centered approach and can be applied by professionals in numerous fields, like business, education, and technology.

Another misconception is that design thinking is overly focused on aesthetics. While design can enhance the visual appeal of a product, the primary goal of this methodology is to create a functional and user-friendly solution, addressing users' needs and problems effectively.


How to Address The Challenges

To mitigate these challenges, be aware of the limitations and adjust your expectations accordingly. You should prioritize projects where design thinking is most appropriate, considering the time and resources available.

Encourage collaboration and open communication among team members by providing an inclusive environment where diverse ideas are valued. Also, invest in training sessions that emphasize the basic principles and techniques of design thinking, so all participants have a clear understanding of the process.

Remember that design thinking is a flexible approach that can be adjusted to fit your specific needs and circumstances. By recognizing these challenges and criticisms, you are better equipped to implement design thinking effectively and solve complex problems more efficiently.

Team is using design principles that are roted in ideation techniques throughout the design processes.

What tools are used in Design Thinking?

Design thinking offers an array of tools in its arsenal to approach and solve complex problems. Understanding and using these tools can elevate your problem-solving skills and create a more human-centered design approach. In this section, we'll introduce some of the most popular design thinking tools.

Visualization is a powerful tool that helps in conveying complex ideas and concepts. It allows you to communicate your thoughts better and make sense of the information at hand. You can use various visualization techniques, such as sketching, mind mapping, diagrams, or storyboards, to bring your ideas to life.

Journey (or experience) mapping is a tool used to understand the user's experience as they interact with your product or service. By creating a visual representation of the user's journey, you can identify gaps, pain points, and areas of opportunity to improve their experience. Keep track of user emotions, touchpoints, and expectations throughout the process.

Value chain analysis is a strategic tool that helps you understand the interrelationship of different elements in delivering value to customers. By breaking down the value chain into its components, you can identify areas to prioritize and streamline, eventually leading to enhanced customer satisfaction.

To ensure that your solution's assumptions are valid, Assumption testing is a crucial activity. Using various methods like interviews, surveys, or experiments, you can test your assumptions and refine your solution based on the findings.

Finally, Prototyping allows you to create low or high-fidelity representations of your solution, which can be shared with users for feedback. This iterative process helps you refine and improve your solution without excessively investing in development.

By incorporating these tools in your design thinking process, you can better understand your users, identify their needs, and create effective solutions tailored to their requirements.

Design thinking approach is centered around user where team has to run a user research to get solid understanding of the problem.

How to Facilitate a Design Thinking Workshop

Ready to take charge and lead a Design Thinking workshop? In this section, we'll walk you through the ins and outs of facilitating a successful session, starting with essential preparations and moving on to the workshop itself. Let's get started and unlock your team's creative potential!

Preparation Before The Workshop

To facilitate a successful Design Thinking workshop, start by getting a clear understanding of the problem you want to address. Gather relevant information, set objectives for the session, and identify the participants that will form your multidisciplinary team.

Next, prepare materials needed for the workshop, such as sticky notes, whiteboards, markers, and other brainstorming tools. Outline the workshop's agenda and allocate time for each of the five phases of Design Thinking: Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Set up the workshop space to encourage collaboration and creativity. Arrange tables and chairs in a flexible configuration that allows for group discussions, and provide ample wall space to display ideas and results.

Teams gain creative confidence throught design process and come to creative solutions that brings organizations competitive advantage.

The Workshop Itself

In the Empathy phase, encourage participants to build empathy for the target users or customers by understanding their needs, motivations, and frustrations. Use exercises like user interviews, personas, and empathy maps to achieve this.

Once you have a clear understanding of your users, move on to the Define phase. Narrow down and frame the problem statement based on user needs. Ensure that the problem statement is concise and actionable.

In the Ideate phase, facilitate brainstorming and idea generation to come up with as many potential solutions as possible. Use techniques like mind mapping, sketching, and "how might we" questions to inspire creativity.

Next comes the Prototype phase, where you work together to create low-fidelity prototypes of selected ideas. The goal is to make the concepts tangible and get quick feedback on their feasibility. Encourage participants to rapidly iterate on their prototypes, refining and improving them as needed.

Finally, in the Test phase, gather feedback on your prototypes from users or key stakeholders. Discuss the insights gained and evaluate whether the solutions meet the user needs and objectives set at the beginning of the workshop. Use these insights to iterate on the prototypes and refine the solutions further.


Every team member has to bring designer's mindset to design innovation to bring business success.

How to Learn Design Thinking

Learning Design Thinking is a valuable skill that can enhance your problem-solving abilities and boost your creativity. There are several resources and approaches available to help you understand and implement Design Thinking process in your work.

Read Design Thinking Blogs

One of the first steps you can take is to read Design Thinking blogs to get an overview of the concept and explore case studies and examples from different industries. This will provide a solid foundation and increase your familiarity with the topic:

Listen to Design Thinking Podcasts

Another valuable resource is Design Thinking podcasts. Listening to expert discussions and interviews can help you gain new insights, learn about practical applications, and develop a deeper understanding of Design Thinking process.

Follow Design Thinking Influencers

You can also follow Design Thinking influencers on social media platforms to stay updated on the latest trends and discussions in the field. Connecting with these influencers can help you network with professionals working in this area and enhance your knowledge base too:

For a comprehensive understanding of Design Thinking process, consider reading some of the best books on Design Thinking. These books provide an in-depth exploration of the subject and can be an excellent resource to build upon your knowledge:

  • "Change by Design" by Tim Brown
  • "The Design of Business" by Roger L. Martin.
  • "The Design Thinking Playbook" by Michael Lewrick
  • "Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days" by by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Braden Kowitz
  • "The Design Of Everyday Things" by Don Norman
  • "Design Thinking for Business Growth" by Michael Lewrick
  • "Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills" by David Sherwin
Learn Design Thinking through courses

Finally, you can also explore other learning methods, such as attending workshops, enrolling in online courses, or even joining local Design Thinking communities. These opportunities offer hands-on experience and direct interaction with other learners, providing a valuable platform for growth and development in the Design Thinking domain.

Overall, the best approach to learning Design Thinking is to combine multiple resources and methods to create a well-rounded understanding of the subject. Keep experimenting and applying Design Thinking principles in your daily life to improve your skills and identify opportunities for innovation continually.


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