Whether you’re working for a large company or on a group project for your next university assignment, coming up with the right ideas is important.

You may get your ideas from searching online, reading books, or finding inspiration in the things you see around you. No matter how come up with solutions, it’s the ‘getting there’ that people often struggle to achieve.

One of the most popular ways to generate new ideas is by using the design thinking process.

In this article, we’re going to introduce you to the process of design thinking. We’ll explain how you can use it to generate your next great idea using a five-stage framework.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking was initially used by those in the technology industry whose job it was to design new products. The process is now much more widespread and has become the norm in many industries where thinking creatively and ‘outside of the box’ is important.

The first company to adopt design thinking was the design consultancy firm, IDEO. The business used the process in-house with their clients, but after the company’s CEO wrote an article about it for the Harvard Business Review, the concept spread and became mainstream.

The main focus of design thinking is that the customer’s needs should always be your top priority. Rather than focus on your business’ profits, success, or expenses, when creating new ideas, you should think about the benefits you give the user. When thinking of new ideas, companies should think about how their customers interact with their environments, and most importantly how they will engage with their product or service.

A lot of companies will think they know how a customer will use their product. They may have plenty of data and statistics to back up their arguments, but until a product or service gets into the hands of the end-user, they cannot know for sure how it’s actually going to perform.

Design thinking is all about being ‘human-centered’. It’s an idea that puts the end-user at the core of every decision made about the product. This includes everything from initial designs to final functionality, and even the name and marketing materials.

Unlike regular decision-making, where teams tend to follow a linear process when approaching a problem and brainstorming the solution, design thinking relies on a more iterative process. Designers come up with a design for a product, and then observe how people use the product or service. After they’ve seen how the target audience interacts with what they’ve designed, they’ll go back to the drawing board and refine the offering to improve the customer’s experience. This process can happen again and again until the product is as close to perfect as possible. Then, as the customer’s needs change, the whole process begins again.

This goes against traditional thinking structures which often pose that there is a single solution. Instead, design thinking acknowledges that products and consumer demands are two constantly changing variables. To consistently satisfy customers, a company and its products must continuously improve and find novel ways to respond to evolving needs.

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The five stages of design thinking

If you think that design thinking is something that interests you, or could lead to new and innovative ideas, it’s a simple process to follow.

The design thinking process is made up of a 5-stage framework. This takes the designer through a whole process of coming up with their target customer’s perfect product or service:

1. Empathize

The first stage of the framework is all about understanding your target customers on a deep level. You want to identify how they interact with, or are affected by, products and services. By showing empathy, you can pick up on problems that they didn’t know they had and gain a better understanding of their need for the product that you’re designing.

2. Define

Now it’s time to gather all the information you acquired in the first stage. You need to define the problem your customer is facing and think about how you plan to solve it.

3. Ideate

Based on the definition of your user’s needs, brainstorm ideas about how you could solve their problems by offering a product or service. At this stage, you don’t need to worry about coming up with the finished product. Brainstorm lots of different ideas, and then narrow it down to a select few that will continue to progress through the framework.

4. Prototype

Now it’s time to start turning your ideas into reality. A prototype doesn’t have to be perfect; it can meet the basic requirements that your customer needs to solve their problem. The prototype is meant to demonstrate what you hope a future iteration of the product or service will look like and is intended to give your customers an idea of what to expect.

5. Test

The last step of the framework, testing, is where your customers will try out your idea and see if it works for them.

Let your target customers use your product and collect their feedback. It’s not likely to be all positive at first, but that’s OK – this stage is about getting the constructive criticism you need to go back and make improvements. In some cases, you may find that your prototype is completely unsuitable, forcing you to go back to an earlier stage.

Continue to repeat the cycle, moving through the various stages until you land on the idea that works best.

How you can benefit from using the design thinking process

The design thinking process is popular for a reason, the framework offers multiple benefits to those who need to develop innovative ideas. It allows designers to create a product that their customers actually want, without being held back by long planning processes. The iterative structure that allows for continual revision and improvements, and customers are more satisfied due to their inclusion in and involvement with the design process.

Remember, innovative solutions come from thinking outside of the box!

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