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Design thinking: State of things
Notion & History

Wikipedia says "Design thinking is a method for the practical, creative resolution of problems using the strategies designers use during the process of designing. Design thinking has also been developed as an approach to resolve issues outside of professional design practice, such as in business and social contexts."

Design Thinking is a design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It's extremely useful in tackling complex problems that are ill-defined or unknown, by understanding the human needs involved, by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, by creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and by adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing. (interactingBsAs)

The origins of design thinking partially lie in the development of creativity techniques in the 1950s. Harold van Doren published Industrial Design — A Practical Guide to Product Design and Development, which includes discussions of design methods and practices, in 1940. John E. Arnold began teaching about creativity at MIT in 1951 and began teaching at Stanford in 1957.

In 1969 Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon outlined one of the first formal models of the Design Thinking process. Simon's model consists of 7 major stages. All today models based upon the same principles featured in Simon's model.

Design thinking plays a large role in how we interact with computers (the mouse and notebook), how we deliver our healthcare, and how we do our banking now and in the future.

Today list of companies using design thinking is growing fast:

IDEO, IBM, Capital One Labs, Marriott International, Fidelity, Liberty mutual, Mass mutual, Blue cross blue shield, Intuit, SAP, Philips, Lego, Lowes hardware, Infosys, General electric, Con Agra, Volkswagen, BMW USA, Deutsche Bahn, Telekom, Swisscom, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, Erste Bank, Daimler, Barclays, UBS, RWE, Accenture, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Genentech/Roche, GSK, Merck, Pfizer, Virgin Atlantic, Airbnb, Square, GE, Netflix Technology Blog, O2, PepsiCo and so on…

Art or science?

"Is designing an art, a science or a form of mathematics?"

One of the first design science theorists, John Chris Jones responded:

The main point of difference is that of timing. Both artists and scientists operate on the physical world as it exists in the present (whether it is real or symbolic), while mathematicians operate on abstract relationships that are independent of historical time. Designers, on the other hand, are forever bound to treat as real that which exists only in an imagined future and have to specify ways in which the foreseen thing can be made to exist.— John Chris Jones, Design Method
Design thinking model

Simon's model consisted of 7 major stages:

  1. Define — What is the problem you are trying to resolve, determine the success factors, who are the users
  2. Research — Review the history of the problem, collect examples of other attempts to solve the same issue
  3. Ideation — Generate as many ideas as possible to serve these identified needs via brainstorming session, do not judge ideas but encourage creativity
  4. Prototype — Combine, expand, and refine ideas, present a selection of ideas to the clients, do role plays
  5. Choose — select powerful idea but remember most practical solution may not be the best.
  6. Implement — Plan, Do, Act, Check while implementing
  7. Learn — what works and what does not, get customer feedback, measure success & discuss improvement.
But today design thinkers use 5 stage model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford The 5 stages of Design Thinking are as follows:

(Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation)
1. Empathise

What: Empathic and emotional, personal understanding of the problem.

Why: to understand the users, their needs, and the problems and implement this knowledge in the development of that particular product.


  • consultation with experts or reading materials
  • observation and communication with your customers and other people to understand their experiences and motivations,
  • customers interviews and storytelling
  • immersing yourself in the physical environment to have a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved.
2. Define

What: Analyse and synthesise information collected on Empathise stage to define the main problems

Why: Allow users to resolve issues themselves with the minimum of difficulty


  • customers interviews and storytelling are now resulting in ICP and Personas,
  • building Customer Journey Map
  • think about establishing features, functions, and any other elements
3. Ideate

What: Idea generation using as many as you know ideation methods

Why: Get wide range of possible solutions which your team will test


4. Prototype

What: realisation of ideas generated during Ideation stage

Why: Experiments help the best possible solution for defined problems and predict users behaviour and reactions.

How: Prototypes created by your team could be reviewed, improved or rejected on the basis of the users' experiences.

5. Test

What: Final stage. Real benchmarking

Why: Only test will show us the process and the results: how real customers understand new hypothesis and if they enjoy it. Often, this stage help teams redefine issues and obviously better understand their users and create more accurate prototype

How: Implementing in real work

In fact, design thinking is not linear. In practice, the process is carried out in a more flexible and non-linear mode.

For example, more than one stage may be conducted concurrently by different groups, or the designers may collect information and prototype during the entire project so as to enable them to bring their ideas to life and visualise the problem solutions. Also, results from the testing phase may reveal some insights about users, which in turn may lead to another brainstorming session (ideation) or the development of new prototypes. (IDF)

Where to Learn More

Herbert Simon, Sciences of the Artificial (3rd Edition)

Gerd Waloszek, Introduction to Design Thinking,

Bruce Sterling, «Shaping Things»

Altshuller, G. S. "Algorithm of Invention"

Goldenberg "Creativity in Product Innovation"

Robert M. Pirsig, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values"

film of Stanley Kubrick "2001: A Space Odyssey"

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