What is design thinking

Do you want to know which is one of the most effective creative processes that allow you to achieve the most creative and dynamic results in your projects?

In this article, I want to show you what design thinking is and make you understand why, by focusing on the user in your projects, these projects reach a quality that you don’t even expect!

Hello? Let’s start with.

To be able to talk about the so-called design thinking and define it, we must first think about the English term “design”. Although the word “design” is almost always used to indicate an object or a finished product, its most complete meaning is the one that encompasses the entire creative process. A verb, therefore, “to design”, and not a name.

Design is a whole series of problem-solving actions, which lead to solving a problem with creativity, with an idea.

There is a lot of confusion around the definition of design thinking, just as there is confusion in the definition of the word design itself. So what is design thinking? Is it designer thinking? Is it renewing objects?

Now I give you a clear and simple definition based on what the most important experts in the field say.

A definition of Design thinking

There is a great debate about it but, basically, without going into academicism or argyrous definitions, we can talk with certainty about some aspect of this process. Because yes, first of all design thinking is a kind of creative process.

What differentiates it from the usual creative process (Problem>idea>solution) is the attitude itself towards the design and creation phase. The attention is focused on the word “thinking” and therefore on the fact that at the base of every project there is the attempt to respond to a human need.

Design thinking is therefore a process centred on the human-centered person, his needs and the solutions that are conceived. It is the user, through observations and research by the designer, who decides whether a product should exist or not.

Herbert Simon, a well-known economist and psychologist of the second half of the 20th century, stated in his book The Sciences of the Artificial, that in this type of creative process, “there are no judgments. This eliminates the fear of failure by increasing input and participation. Spontaneous ideas are welcome, because they are the ones that lead to the most creative solutions. Everyone is a designer, and design thinking is a way to apply design methodologies to everyday life. (tweet me)”

For Tim Brown, founder of IDEO, whom I told you about in the article about how the game can improve creativity, design thinking is the pillar on which to base your design. For Tim Brown, “thinking design” is the attempt to carry out an ideative revolution, to no longer try to make beautiful, useful and profitable objects, but it is something much greater: it is the building around an object its own meaning and its own history. To give a reason to every object created. (tweet me)

But to better define design thinking, it is good to describe which are the most important steps within this process.

Creating a meaning and a story around each design object can seem very complicated, and it is, but only because every designer needs important specific skills. The process itself is not complicated and can be summarized in 4 phases.

1. Defining the problem

It’s simple, isn’t it? There’s a problem, okay, now we have to define it. Actually, it’s probably the most complicated phase. The most complicated part, in particular, is to decide which is the problem to solve, because there may be many problems, which divert attention from the main ones. You have to choose the right one.

In design thinking, the observation process plays a crucial role. As I said before, “design thinking” is focused on the user, the person, so you understand how essential it is to carefully observe what the user’s attitudes are, his needs, his problems.

You have to touch things, hear opinions, see behaviours. That’s why a creative should never work while being locked up in an office all day long. Even just taking a simple walk can give an important stimulus to creativity.

A designer’s mind has to be curious, it has to ask itself continuous questions, it has to ask itself why? Why does this not work? Why do people interact with one object in one way and not the other? How can I improve this?

Once the problem has been defined, all the mental preconceptions that accompany it must be erased around it, so that we can go to phase 2. Let me give you an example: instead of defining a problem as “I have to build a chair”, it removes all the preconceptions behind the idea of a chair and thinks instead “I have to create something to keep people suspended”. It allows you to be more creative, doesn’t it?

2. Consider several options

The philosophy of design thinking states that no matter how obvious the solution to a problem may seem, you should always consider other problems. Looking at a problem from different perspectives always leads to better results. (tweet me)

Even the best teams and the best creatives often, for lack of time or perhaps motivation, fall into the “trap” of applying the same solution to all problems, perhaps because it works the first time. This is a wrong approach both from the point of view of effectiveness, because you neglect possible better solutions, but also from the point of view of fun! That is, what a bore it is to always do the same things for every project?

At this stage of analysis of the various options, teamwork is very often more effective. Better ideas emerge from 5 people in one day rather than 1 person in 5 days. Find out some things I’ve learned about teamwork.

The trick is to recognize each proposal and each option as a possibility, as an opportunity.

4. Create

Okay, so we’ve come a long way at this point. It’s time to choose the “winner”. The objective of phase 4 is to conclude it with the initial problem totally solved in the best possible way.

This phase, which is theoretically very difficult, if you have the right technical skills, comes very easily to an end. Most of the work and study has already been done in the previous phases. It is therefore a question of completing the work of research, definition and creation of prototypes and tests carried out so far.

Here too, however, the feedback phase comes in handy again. This can lead to both future product improvements and new problems and therefore new challenges to be faced and solved through the design thinking process.

Useful resources

Obviously, a single article is not enough to complete this topic. If you are interested in deepening a very interesting book on this subject (I recommend it to me in the university field and of which I have read some passages in the university library) is “Design Thinking: Process and Methods Manual” by Robert Curedale. Yes, it’s in English, I know! 🙂

Other articles I’ve written on Grafigata.com about topics related to Design Thinking are instead:

The creative process and the game

Brainstorming techniques to improve the creative process


Okay, after this article you should be a little clearer about what “design thinking” is and how it is structured.

Before concluding. It is important to underline again that design thinking is not a creative process applicable only to the world of design, graphics or art but in any field, from marketing to economics, from engineering to everyday life.

This process unleashes creativity and leads to unthinkable solutions at the beginning. That’s why today it is so loved and studied.

Let me know what you think of this article! Do you also apply the process of design thinking to solve problems and develop projects in your agency, studio or home room? Let me know your experiences below, in the comment box!