A 3-minute Introduction to Design Thinking and Human-centered Design

What is design thinking and human-centered design?

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving process that helps you make things people want. It's about building solutions for people. Design thinking helps you discover the real problems, think through potential solutions and build prototypes to test them.

Design thinking has 5 steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

Step 1: Empathize

To start, you need to get out into the world and observe people. You should spend time with them, observing how they interact with the things around them. What do they like and dislike? What do they find confusing or frustrating? How might this be different than what you think it’ll be based on your own experience or intuition? This is called empathy: putting yourself in someone else’s shoes so that you can understand their needs and wants better than anyone else does.

Empathy is important because without it, every decision will be rooted in assumptions rather than facts—and when those assumptions are wrong, we end up building products that don't work as well as they could have (or even worse).

Step 2: Define

In the second step, you need to define the problem.

Let’s say you're working on a project for a local school district and want to design an app that helps parents track their children's attendance. As part of your research, you discover that many parents are worried about their children skipping school because it prevents them from doing well in college or getting scholarships. You could focus on this type of concern by asking questions like:

  • How can we help parents keep track of whether their kids are missing class?
  • What information do they need in order to know if their child is present or absent?
  • How can we make sure they have access to this information quickly and easily?

Step 3: Ideate

What is the next step in the process? You’re going to ideate, which means generating lots of ideas about how you might solve your problem.

What do we mean by “generate”? We mean all kinds of things: brainstorming, programming, making a sketch or small scale model.

How do we know that our idea will work? We don't—not yet! That's why we're building as many different versions as possible so that when we find the best one or two ideas, they can be tested and iterated upon before being taken into production.

Step 4: Prototype

Prototyping is a critical step in the design thinking process. It's important to prototype early and often: you'll be able to test your ideas faster, get feedback from more people, and make changes as needed. Prototypes can be paper models or digital models; the main thing is that they should be able to show how users will interact with your product or service, without having to actually build it all out yet. Prototypes are unique to the design challenge you are trying to solve; there's no one right type of prototype that works for every situation.

Once you have an idea of what your prototype will look like, it's time for step 5: Test!

Step 5: Test

The last step in the design thinking process is testing. Test your hypothesis and get feedback from users on whether or not it's actually solving their problems.

Once you've gotten feedback from your users about what's working (and what isn't), it's time for iteration! You'll want to review your prototype in light of this new information, then revise it accordingly. Repeat this process until you feel confident that you have reached a good solution for everyone involved—user and designer alike!

What are the benefits to design thinking?

Design thinking can be applied to any problem. It can help you solve problems that you may not even have known existed, as well as help you refine existing processes. Design thinking involves both the people who are solving a problem and those who are affected by it. In this way, it allows for everyone to be involved in the process.

Design thinking encourages empathy with users, which is critical for creating products that make people’s lives better (or at least easier). When we build empathy with our users through research and observation, we create shared visions of how things should work together.

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