July 10, 2019

What is the Design Thinking Process?

Desmond Brisbin |


The most important thing to remember, when you are creating an app, whether it is your first or 500th, is to design a product that is user-focused. Often companies think they have the perfect solution for their clients, and want to jump into the development process before stopping to ask the question: is this something my customer/user actually wants?

Design thinking is a process of creative problem solving, and key to the way FreshWorks begins each new project. Design thinking stops everyone from starting with an assumption and building a product around it before testing its validity. Rather, it encourages the team to take a step back and focus on the people we are creating for which ultimately leads to better and more useful apps.

So, what is design thinking, and how does it keep teams focused on people?

Design thinking is a process by which users research, gather facts, identify personas, consult subject matter experts and brainstorm in order to generate the maximum amount of ideas. From these ideas, the best are turned into prototypes and rapidly tested to see which works best with your users and how to best refine them.

The 6 Stages of the Design Thinking Process

There are 6 stages of the design thinking process:

  The design thinking process according to the    Stanford d. School   .  The design thinking process according to the Stanford d. School .

Note that creating a prototype is a relatively late stage step in the process, which some people find surprising. Many people or companies come to the table thinking they know exactly what they want to make. This can be dangerous, because they may be going off of the wrong information or making the wrong assumptions about their products or service’s users.

For example, do you need an app that sells your products because you think the client is looking for a way to buy your product on their mobile phone, or because you think it might be another revenue stream for your company? As you can see, one is taking what a user wants into consideration, while another is merely concerned with the business. With design thinking the user always comes first.

In this case, there are a few things to do before you begin to develop an app. It may be that mobile purchases are an important feature to consider. But with design thinking, you need to talk to your users first. Start by asking questions to find out who the users are and what needs they have and the motivations behind them. How many, for example, shop using mobile devices? And what type of mobile devices do they use? You might also want to consult outside data or experts. Are people buying your particular product on mobile, or do they prefer an in-person purchase – and, if so, why? Answers to these questions will dictate everything from what platform to build on to what features the app needs to serve a user’s requirements.

Here’s Why Design Thinking is Important

Focusing on design thinking helps to focus problem solving by creating a set of processes that can help locate pain points, then work through to the best possible solutions in time-efficient ways. Think of design thinking as a sort-of scientific method. It helps teams get around biases to focus on root problems by creating a structure in order to systematically approach customer feedback and problem solving. The output of these processes can also provide user research artifacts that your entire team can refer to to help answer questions that arise throughout design and development.

Think of design thinking as a sort-of scientific method. It helps teams get around biases to focus on root problems by creating a structure in order to systematically approach customer feedback and problem solving.

Design thinking helps with the design process and is important for many reasons:

  • It helps keep a human element at the centre of the process

  • It takes the guesswork out of what your client’s needs are

  • It allows you to prioritize solutions

  • It generates revolutionary ideas by creating a “yes, and…” mentality during brainstorming

  • It helps teams learn quickly by allowing the team to fail faster and build out ideas more effectively

  • It’s flexible, allowing you to move forward and backward through the process to prototype and iterate faster

But design thinking is also important from a business perspective:

  • It nurtures a customer-first approach to problem solving

  • Reveals gaps in business intelligence about your users

  • It reveals pain points experienced by the client, and, if removed effectively, helps businesses ease friction from actions (like purchasing!)

  • It saves time and money by informing what not to do

Why Design Thinking is So Useful in Tech

When building an app, many people get excited about all the potential bells and whistles that can be added to really “wow” a customer. But more often than not, simpler is better. How do you pare down an idea to its essence in order to ensure your user intuitively knows how to use the app? It starts with understanding your client/user and how they might use the tech itself. That’s why it’s so important to get their input early on in the process! An AR (Augmented Reality) buying environment may seem super-cool in theory, but what if your customer prefers a simple one-click shopping experience?

Keeping Things Structured

Although design is often considered the realm of creatives who (we’ve been led to believe) prefer an overall lack of structure, design thinking is very much a structured exercise. This purposefully structured systemic approach to creative problem solving is important for a few reasons. It instills confidence in the team, who can move through things step-by-step. Each step has a clear output, that the next activity relies on, so going in order and moving through the process remains integral. You also don’t have to know how to code an app or work Photoshop to jump into a design thinking framework. It’s meant for diverse teams to be able to have input in the process and the steps all along the way.

That’s one of the reasons design thinking works so well for FreshWorks and our clients. As we prefer to have a partner-developer relationship with companies, design thinking allows us to pull our partners into the process. They can help shape questions to customers, share insights, source experts, and build user personas around the collected data. They are also part of the ideation phase where we begin to source solutions. Mock-ups, prototypes, and iterations are all collaborative efforts which helps maintain transparency in the overall process, and our client-partners can participate in the process largely due to the design thinking framework.

The Importance of Waiting to Prototype

design thinking minimizes risk and uncertainty in innovation. It does this by engaging with customers/users at every step of the process to refine concepts, test assumptions, and prototype solutions. Design Thinkers do rely on user insights, not historical data or research. That’s why prototyping comes a bit later in the process. First, the user must be understood. Then, solutions can be sourced that will fit their needs.

Failing Fast

Once the best solutions have been revealed, it’s time to mock-up, test and iterate. design thinking allows teams to fail fast and test theories relatively inexpensively and quickly. You’ll be able to see what works, or what doesn’t, understand why, and how to fix it, and then craft simple solutions based directly on user feedback.

Here’s why that’s good:

Prototyping allows for the design thinking process to remain non-linear. This means, you can test assumptions through prototypes, and learn from the prototypes to form new (sometimes better) ideas. You can test, return to the ideate phase and prototype again. The end result is a stronger product that’s already been through the fire on multiple occasions. Weak spots are ironed out and processes are streamlined to create something that’s both useful and intuitive. But the end product only comes from multiple passes of iteration!

Failing fast is important in tech, as it’s a way to save time and resources while working towards a solution. Instead of working backward (building something that a user rejects and then figuring out how to make the user respond to the end-product), design thinking allows us to take smaller bites, by finding what works and discarding what doesn’t.

Creating the perfect app in the first go just isn’t going to happen. But what design thinking allows for is for the best ideas to rise to the top, and be tested for strength of concept. It allows for iterations and simple refinements that make the best ideas even better. And it allows you to go back and try again – whether that means prototyping a new design or re-defining the problem again.

This may seem like a lot of work – and it is! But it also means that we’re going to end up developing the best end-product possible. Also, because we’ve kept the user at the centre of the process, it means your customers are actually going to use your solutions. We’ve listened to them, gathered feedback, and designed an app that solves their pain points and meets their needs. Ultimately, because of the due diligence performed during the design thinking process, you will have a robust and useful app that will compliment your business and delight your customers. And the best part? You’ve probably gained some pretty powerful insights on your customers that will reverberate into other areas of your business going forward.

Are you ready to build your own app and curious about our process? Reach out and say hi! We’re here to answer your questions concerning how we build strong client relationships and intuitive apps.

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