Design Thinking: what does it mean?

Design Thinking: what does it mean?

If I had to sum design thinking up, I would certainly quote IDEO: one of the major consulting company working with design methodologies, founded in 1991.

IDEO says that design thinking is:

“A tool based on human factor to satisfy human needs, technological possibilities and business needs”

It’s obvious that Design Thinking is not only a tool, for me it represents a real mindset through which managing and solving all the problems happening in everyday life.

Let’s proceed one step at a time.

To solve problems with design thinking methodologies, you can follow 5 easy steps. Each one has its own  tools and techniques (which will be analysed better in future articles).



  • Step 1 – Empathy
    First of all you need to understand and feel all the emotions of your future customers/users. Being able to know which are their main problems is the first step to know how to solve them. The tools and techniques most widely used are:

    • Interviews
    • Personas creation
    • Why-how-when waterfall
  • Step 2 – Definition
    All the insight found and discovered in the first step are now analyzed. All the ideas you created are summarized visually through post it or cluster. The main tools and techniques are:

    • Point of view analysis
    • Affinity diagram
  • Step 3 – Ideation
    The process of idea generation is composed by two chronological steps: divergent thinking, where you have to create a lot of ideas and possibilities, and convergent thinking, a moment in which people tend to analyse and choose which could be the best ideas previously proposed. The technique most widely used is brainstorming 
  • Step 4 – Prototipation
    At this moment, you should be able to create something that verifies, or don’t verify, your idea. You could create some kind of MVP – minimum viable product so that people will test your idea: a website, a mockup application or a simple form. 
  • Step 5 – Test
    In the final step it’s time to bring the prototypes, you created before, outside your room and, thus, in the real world. After having shown your project to your boss/friend/you name it, it’s possible that you would have to iterate some previous steps to enhance it. For these steps designers tend to use:

    • Think aloud
    • I like I wish What if


Would you like to have another perspective on design thinking processes? Here you are!

Another point of view: Not only precise and strict steps!

Design thinking could be seen as a mixture between three big areas, in which you will have to navigate yourself.



In a design thinking process we could identify three main areas: inspiration, ideation and implementation.
These three areas are very important because they define the logical steps that a project has to follow to be successful. (This way of processing is more suitable for people already accustomed to creativity processes.)


  • Inspiration: the first area is the one in which people tend to make the decision to solve someone’s problem and create innovative products or services. I’m talking about problems and opportunities that justify the research of new solutions. 
  • Ideation: the second area consists on the generation, development and testing of ideas. These latest ones are commonly generated through sessions of divergent thinking and convergent thinking. People in charge of this step of the process are usually skilled both vertically (high experienced in their field of study = hard skilled) and horizontally (able to speak with different people belonging to different business units or different cultures). The people on which I’m talking about are the so-called “T-Shaped people”.
  • Implementation: in the third and last area we can find the final chapter of the entire project. The product, or service, created is tested, implemented and, eventually, ready to solve problems.


If the first method (the 5 steps process) is better for you if you are not accustomed to creative processes, the second one is more suitable if you feel yourself really creative.


As we just saw:

Design thinking processes could both be seen as:

  • A series of 5 steps (empathy, definition, ideation, prototipation and test)
  • A set of 3 areas (inspiration, ideation, implementation)

The way in which you decide to apply design thinking to one of your personal or professional problem is not the real problem. The focus must be on the objective you want to achieve.

These processes share the same objective: finding the best mix between innovation and value for the customer. You could be able to achieve this objective putting yourself and your ideas in the sweet spot that could be found in the intersection of three main criteria: feasibility, desirability and viability.

  • Feasibility: is the technological constraint, you will need to understand if the project on which you are working could be created using the current technologies available in the world.
  • Desirability: I could sum this constraint up with a single phrase: “will it (service/product/…) be useful for people?” If the answer is “yes”, go on with it. But if the answer is “no” maybe you will need to modify something.
  • Viability: The third one is mostly related to the business area. Through this last area you should ask yourself if the project is economically sustainable or not.


In conclusion:

I could no guarantee that one methodology is better than the other one, but:

if you are not accustomed to creative process: you should begin with the five steps process and only after move ahead and use the 3 areas methodology.

if you are already accustomed to creative processes: dive yourself in the second methodology.


In this article you found a lot of theory, but you will find it useful for the future so that you can understand the basis of design thinking. Try to use it to solve your problems or to create some new products or services.


It’s better understanding than learning.



Over and out

Understanding people means foresee the future.

[Marco Carniel]



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