A people focused approach...
Most people like to jump to solutions. Design thinking is about gaining understanding of the problem first
What is Design Thinking?
Design Thinking is a human-centric approach to innovation that synthesizes the needs of real people with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. This process avoids the "if you build it, they will come" trap of entrepreneurship by focusing on problems and ensuring solutions meet the needs of other humans.
Design thinking begins by asking the question "what do people need?" As more research is done, that question transforms into "how might we" statements that probe designers to solve problems in intriguing and unconventional ways that stem from nuanced understandings of the problem or need at hand. Different schools teach design thinking in their own ways, but there is a general step-by-step process that all design thinkers use.
Discovery Through Empathy
Design Thinking is considered a human-centric process because it challenges you to both discover new perspectives on the issues you are trying to solve and to empathize with the people that are experiencing it, thus gaining a greater understanding of the problem, itself. Empathy is critical in design thinking because it facilitates the deepest understanding of the users one is trying to serve. Developing an emphatic ability is a critical skill in design thinking.
In discovering more about a problem, there are many methods for developing a baseline of knowledge. Conducting design research is essential to the discovery phase of design thinking. Getting out into the field and getting real-world observations and interviews with real people is the best way to learn the most about a problem. One reason is that people don't often realize what their needs are or will have developed work-arounds that can be useful hints to important problems. Take for example, Kids and brushing their teeth! It is also important to do secondary research, data analysis, and assessing the trends in the area you are researching.
Insights and Synthesis
The result of the research phase is raw information on the problem-area you have studied. However, more must be done with this information to transform it into workable knowledge. This process is called definition or synthesis, and the goal here is to develop insights, which are bite-size statements that express some unseen or unconventional knowledge about the problem and the people that are affected by it that will drive the ideation of solutions at a later time.
This is known as a divergent thinking process because it requires that researchers or designers expand their understanding of the problem, gather new perspectives through which to see the issue, and generate as many ideas as possible without being constrained by traditional ways to view the world. While divergent thinking is necessary here, convergent thinking will later be used to come to a singular solution.
Ideation and Prototyping
Following the creation of insights, design thinkers will move into ideation, which is the creative, divergent process of generating and developing new ideas to address the need that was explored during the research phase. The lens through which these ideas are generated are the insights that the designers previously found. Like synthesis, designers are encouraged to explore as many ideas as possible and to suspend judgment of these ideas until later. Here, researchers will ask themselves "how might we" solve this problem or address this need in a specific way related to the insights. "How might we" statements are the bridge that connect insights to solutions.
After rounds of ideation, the design team will begin to converge towards a single solution or product. Then, prototyping commences. During this phase, it is encouraged to build prototypes that approximate the final vision of the product but are easy and cost-effective to produce.
Testing and Beyond
With a workable prototype in hand, design thinkers will move on to implementation or testing. This involves the testing of assumptions through a prototype to continuously shape them into viable solutions. The best way to achieve this is through early, fast, and cheap experimentation through rapid prototyping. Design thinkers will go through many iterations of their prototype to shape a product that steadily approaches the needs of the consumer.
Design thinking is an iterative process that calls for entrepreneurs or designs to recursively return to various steps of the design thinking process before arriving at a final product to take to market. It ensures that this product is as suited to needs of the user as possible and solves unique problems through empathy and understanding of humans. While design thinking may seem cyclical and redundant, it is an immensely effective tool for creating products that truly achieve the solution they're intended to.