The Fundamentals of Design Thinking

Design thinking is about solving problems for people in an empathetic way.

Design Brief - What is it?

Designers job is to come up with ideas to help people solve their problems. But they know that coming up with those ideas isn't always easy. But they can't afford to sit and wait for them to fall from the sky. So they need a way to systematically and consistently generate ideas. Enter Design Thinking.

Design thinking combines the designer's problem-solving skill with a deeply empathetic view of things, and as result, they learn to see things from other people's eyes which puts them in a better position to solve their problem. It's not a non-linear process, so there's no right or wrong way to do it.  It includes the following phases: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Empathize - Be in the user's shoes

Empathy is a journey into the feelings of others. Is the core of design thinking and UX in general. At this stage a beginner’s mindset helps designers immerse themselves in the end user’s experience in order to uncover their deep needs and insights that can enable them to solve problems.   Things to keep in mind during this stage:

  • Drop your assumptions, judgments, and bias. Remember: you're not the user;
  • Guess less: to solve real people's problems you need to use real data;
  • Use research, interviews, surveys, body language to collect as much as possible data, quantitative and qualitative.
"Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, the design is a pointless task." - Tim Brown — IDEO

Define - Find the Real Problem

After understanding the end-users' problems through the data you've collected in the previous step, you need to synthesize, analyze, structure, and categorize these findings and come up with a problem statement, a.k.a point of view (POV), that can help you reframe the problem and open new solution spaces.

A POV is an actionable problem statement that summarizes who the end-users are, the problem they have and why is it important to solve. It helps define the problem before solving it, because a great solution to the wrong problem, will always fail. Besides, having a clearly defined problem helps to condense the problem and provides metrics for success that you and your team can use throughout the project. If you find out that you need more data, go back to the previous stage. (I told you it's not linear! 😅).

A POV statement  comes like this: (User) + needs a (way to do something) + in order to (accomplish a goal)

So how can designers come up with a POV statement? Ask yourself:

  • Who am I designing for?
  • What is a need that they have that is unmet?
  • Why is it important to solve that problem?

Ideate - Beyond Brainstorming

After defining the problem you want to solve through the data you've collected and analyzed, now comes the funny part: generating ideas. The goal is to come up with as many and as diverse ideas to the defined problem as we can. It's quantity over quality. By reaching for quantity, you can boost your overall creative output and increase the chances of coming up with the right solutions. Methods used include mindmaps, sketches, storyboards. To succeed at this stage, it's vital to:

  • Suspend all the judgement of both our own and others ideas
  • Make sure everybody is sharing ideas, if you're working in a team
In ideation, quantity beats quality.

Prototyping - Get Smarter Faster

For many designers, prototyping is where the fun begins. After the exhaustion of ideas, those that meet the requirements, are prototyped. This phase involves creating some form of what it is that you're are trying to create in form of paper prototypes, animatics, maquettes, comps, mockups, and so on.

Sometimes the key to good empathy is sharing or co-creating a prototype with your end-users and getting feedback. Prototyping helps designers learn, solve disagreements, and test hypotheses quickly and with minimal repercussions. The goal is to make sure that the problem we're trying to solve is the right one.

"Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, the design is a pointless task." - Tim Brown — IDEO

Test - Make Sure it Works

By testing our prototypes with real users and getting feedback, designers can refine their POV, learn more about our users, and make the next iteration of the product better. As they say at Stanford’s “Prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong.” This may or may not be the final stage, because we can learn things that need to be solved or revisited. We want to learn and refine until we solve the problem. Methods used include screen (motion), Launch, Publish, print, Debug, Beta, Promote, release, etc. If the results of the test are good, then the next step is implementing. If not, feel free to revisit the previous stages and make the needed adjustments.

Test and iterate until you find the right solution to the problem.


  • Empathy: Collect as much information as you can. Remember that you're not the user, so its important to collect real data from real users.
  • Define: Analyze and structure the data collected in the empathize stage and figure out what the users needs are and come up with a a problem statement or POV.
  • Ideate: Based on the defined problem, try to come up with as many ideas as possible. Welcome all ideas and suspend judgement.
  • Prototype: Select the best generated ideas and build a quick and cheap form of what it is that you're trying to design.
  • Test: Let users interact with the prototypes you've built and give you feedback. Use the data collected from this stage to create an improved iteration until you feel like you found the right solution to the problem.

Délcio Pechiço

Product Designer | Webflow Enthusiast | IT Support Technician | Background in Mining, Oil & Gas

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