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Design thinking: how to apply the method in practice in 2023

Design Thinking is a method that provides a foundation for a problem-solving approach that takes into account users' needs, experiences, and even emotions. This approach is used in business, technology, medicine, and other industries where it is important to improve user experience and achieve results. This method, invented in the 1960s, is more relevant than ever and helps many companies in 2023 to continue their operations and provide the most necessary services to their users.Let's dive deeper into the history of this principle and see how it works today.

The history of design thinking

Design Thinking appeared back in the 60s of the last century at Stanford University, when a group of scientists led by Robert McNamara created an interdisciplinary Design Thinking course aimed at solving human problems. The course was based on the ideas of the American psychologist Abraham Maslow, who developed the theory of human needs and his approaches to self-realization.

Human-centered design is one of the key components of design thinking. The basis of design thinking is a creative process in which designers, developers, and other professionals work together to create innovative solutions to various problems and challenges. This approach arose from the need to solve complex problems and unforeseen situations that arise in various industries.

In 2005, IDEO, an innovative design agency, introduced its approach to problem solving called Human-centered design. This approach is based on a focus on users, their needs, problems, and requirements.

Over time, HCD has become increasingly popular and is used in various industries, including business, medicine, education, etc. Today, design thinking and Human-centered design are considered essential for creating innovative and successful products and services.

It has especially gained popularity in the recent crisis years, when companies realized that innovation and creating products that meet user needs are key success factors.

Well-known examples of companies that use design thinking in their work are Apple, Google, IBM, Airbnb, Zoom, and others.

Challenging times and design thinking

Difficult times, such as the covid pandemic, were the time when companies could really demonstrate their ability to adapt to force majeure. Design thinking and Human-centered design, which focus on the needs of users, have become indispensable tools for companies to successfully adapt to new realities.

One of the most successful examples of design thinking during the covid pandemic is Zoom. It became very popular among users who were forced to work from home. To ensure maximum user comfort during video communication, Zoom actively used design thinking to optimize its platform.

Another successful example is UberEATS. When restaurants were forced to close their doors due to quarantine restrictions, UberEATS used design thinking to expand its network of partners and provide safe food delivery without having to leave home.

Other companies that have successfully applied design thinking during the covid pandemic include Instacart, Netflix, Headspace, and Peloton. They are using this method to adapt to changes in user behavior and provide safe and efficient access to their products and services.

In this challenging time, when users are forced to adapt to new conditions, companies that use design thinking can ensure optimal interaction with their users. 

How does it work?

Let's move from theory to practice and see how development is carried out taking into account the principles of design thinking. This process is divided into certain stages. There are five of them. We'll take a look at each one.

First stage - empathy

This is the stage in which the design team seeks to understand and hear the needs of users by immersing themselves in their world and exploring their problems, wishes, and desires. The design team tries to understand their needs and perspectives from their point of view in order to create products and services that truly meet the needs of users.

In this stage, designers conduct observations, interview and communicate with users, and collect information about their environment, their routines, their needs and wants. The main goal of this stage is to collect as much information about users and their needs as possible so that the next stages can be more efficient and successful.

It is important to note that the Empathy stage is not just about collecting information about users. It is a stage in which designers try to understand the world and perspectives of users, their needs and desires, not just factual information about how users use products and services.

Second stage - focusing

The second stage helps to focus on the problem and find out what exactly needs to be solved. This stage consists of the following steps:

  • Formulating the question: In this step, the design team must formulate a specific question or problem to be answered. The question should be specific, not general, and should meet the needs of the users.
  • Research: After the question is formulated, designers conduct research to understand what problems are associated with this question. Research may include data analysis, user interviews, user observation, and competitor analysis.
  • Collecting answers: In this stage, designers collect answers to the questions and problems identified during the research. They can use a variety of tools to gather answers, such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
  • Analysis: After the answers are collected, designers conduct an analysis to understand what problems can be solved and how. They can use various methods for analysis, such as SWOT analysis, Venn diagrams, and others.
  • Prioritization: In the last step of this phase, designers prioritize the problem to be solved. They choose the most important problems and determine how they can be solved.

The designer can use various tools for focusing, such as mind maps, user journey maps, affinity diagrams, and others. The main goal of focusing is to avoid vagueness and focus on specific tasks and goals.

Third stage - idea generation

At this stage, the team gathers to come up with as many ideas as possible, which can then be reviewed and the one that best fits the problem selected.

This stage uses the technique of "brainstorming" to involve all team members and collect their ideas. Brainstorming is an idea generation technique in which all criticism and judgment are prohibited. Ideas are collected on a whiteboard or on paper, with all opinions and suggestions for improvement.

It is important to collect as many ideas as possible, even if some of them seem unrealistic or unnecessary. Ideas can be added at any stage of the process, but at this stage, when the goal is to generate as many ideas as possible, every thought is useful.

Fourth stage - prototyping

At this stage, the development team creates a prototype of the concept that was defined in the previous stage. The prototype can be a physical product or a set of digital files that demonstrate how the finished product will look and function. This stage is important because it allows the team to test how successful their idea will be and how it can be improved before launching it to the market.

A prototype can be created in a variety of ways, depending on what materials and tools are available to the team. For example, a physical prototype can be created using 3D printing, conventional tools, or any other available materials. A digital prototype can be created using software for developing apps, websites, and other digital products.

Prototyping helps the team to test how users will interact with the product and what possible problems might arise. This makes it possible to identify errors and shortcomings before the product is released to the market and make the necessary changes.

Fifth stage - testing

After creating a prototype, it is necessary to test it on users to find out how effective the design is. This stage may include conducting user tests, surveys, and collecting feedback.

User testing is a process where designers observe how users interact with the prototype. This allows designers to get a complete picture of how users interact with the product, which can help improve its design.

Surveys and feedback collection is another important aspect of testing. It allows users to express their opinions and suggestions about the product, and designers to get valuable suggestions and ideas for improving it.

In general, testing is an important part of design thinking because it allows you to check the design for its effectiveness and improve it before launching it on the market.

Design thinking and UI/UX design

Let's use the specific example of UberEATS to consider how applying the principles of design thinking helped adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic and not only retain existing customers, but also increase the number of partners and users.

UberEATS leveraged design thinking and human-centered design to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic in several ways. 

Firstly, they quickly launched a contactless delivery option to ensure the safety of both customers and delivery partners. This involved redesigning their app to include an option for contactless delivery and providing training for their delivery partners on how to deliver orders safely.

Secondly, they collaborated with restaurants to help them adapt to the new normal by providing tools and resources for takeout and delivery services. This included creating a new feature on their app that allowed restaurants to offer takeout meals, as well as offering marketing support and waiving delivery fees for independent restaurants.

Lastly, UberEATS utilized their design thinking approach to develop new features to address the unique challenges posed by the pandemic. For example, they created a new feature that allowed customers to order groceries from local stores through the UberEATS app, helping to address the increased demand for grocery delivery during the pandemic.

These solutions not only met the needs of their customers and partners, but also helped to differentiate UberEATS from its competitors.

UI/UX design was also critical to UberEATS' success during the pandemic. They created a simple and intuitive user interface that made it easy for customers to find and order from their favorite restaurants. They also streamlined the ordering process to make it as quick and easy as possible. By focusing on the user experience, UberEATS was able to create a loyal customer base that continues to use their service today.

If you're interested in UI/UX design and want to learn more about design thinking, the UI/UX Design course at Beetroot Academy gives participants the opportunity to learn all these principles and skills necessary to work in this field. By implementing design thinking in your work, you can create products and services that meet the needs of your customers and partners, just like UberEATS did during the pandemic.

Vlad Kremenchuck
Beetroot Academy blog author
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