How to innovate: The Design Thinking Framework

Waris Hussain
5 min readAug 7, 2021

Innovation is a fancy thing only God can do. Only the almighty can spin around his fingers and come up with a winning idea. If we humans try to innovate, it’s going to turn out messy.

Well, at least that’s what people used to think.

Now, through the advancement in humanity and human civilization, we know innovation is something we all can do if we do it properly.

But how exactly do we do that? Won’t it be great if we had a framework, a step-by-step process to innovate? Well that’s what this blog is about!

What is Design Thinking?

Imagine a human-centered process to solve big problems. A framework in which innovators from different industries can use and drive maximum gains in their time. A process that focuses on actual people, the users, which includes the big brains of many stakeholders into building the product and is solution-oriented.

Design Thinking is one such process.

It’s based on the methods and processes that designers use, hence the name “Design” Thinking. This framework can be applied in various industries, by designers, innovators, businessmen, and artists.

Some of the world’s leading brands such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and GE, have rapidly adopted this Design Thinking approach. It’s being taught at leading universities around the world- Stanford, Harvard, and MIT.

Design Thinking is solution-based thinking and focuses on finding solutions. It’s about coming up with something constructive to effectively tackle a certain problem.

This is the opposite of problem-based thinking, which fixates on obstacles and limitations.

This process is progressive and highly user-centric. All the steps are revolving around the user.

This nonlinear process consists of 5 phases -

5-phases of Design Thinking

Image by Rain Leiberman

I mentioned “nonlinear” above, right? But what does this term actually mean?

The phases of the Design Thinking process has these “phases” instead of “steps”. (Some people might call it steps, but look what I mean by “non-linear”)

These five phases don’t follow any specific sequence or order. The phases can occur in parallel and repeat iteratively. The Design Thinking process isn’t a hierarchical process or a step-by-step process, it’s a mix-and-match of these five different phases.

Empathise

The first phase is to gain an empathic understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve. This can include getting to know users, their wants and needs, their motivations, and their objectives. This means observing and engaging with people to understand them on a minute level.

The key here is to set aside expectations and get the actual insights from users.

Define

This phase starts by laying out the information you’ve gathered in the empathizing phase.

Defining is where you’ll analyze your observations and synthesize them in order to define the core problem you’re solving.

Your goal should be to define the problem as a problem statement in a user-centred manner.

Ideate

After understanding users and framing the problem statement, you’re now ready to ideate solutions.

This phase is where creativity happens and this is a judgement-free zone. Your job is to create ideas, not judge them.

Think outside the box and come up with as many ideas as possible. Hold ideation sessions, look at the problem from different angles, and try different ideation techniques such as brainstorming or mind mapping.

Prototype

You don’t have to judge your ideas while generating them. But once the team has come up with ideas, stick them together, tear apart them, mix-and-match multiple ideas and finalise 1–2-or-3 ideas to create a prototype.

The design team will now create prototypes of those ideas. Both low fidelity prototypes, using pen and paper, and high fidelity prototypes, using design software like Sketch, Figma, or Invision.

Share and test those prototypes within the team itself. The proposed solutions may now be accepted, improved, redesigned or rejected.

With a prototype in hand, identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified in previous phases.

Test

Test rigorously that improved prototype with real users.

Test with real users and gather insights, see if they’re doing things you expected them to do. Gather feedback.

This phase is the last of the five, but in reality, this is rarely the end of the design thinking process. The results of the testing phase often leads you back to a previous step. Providing the insights you need to redefine the original problem statement or to come up with new ideas you hadn’t thought of before.

Why does it matter?

There are many benefits of using a Design Thinking approach — be it in a business, educational, personal, or social context.

This process fosters creativity and innovation.

As human beings, we rely on the knowledge and experiences we have accumulated to inform our actions. We use this knowledge and experience in problem-solving.

Rather than repeating the same tried-and-tested methods, Design Thinking encourages us to remove our blinkers and consider alternative solutions. The entire process lends itself to challenging assumptions and exploring new pathways and ideas.

This framework isn’t steeped wholly in emotion and intuition, nor does it rely solely on analytics and rationale; it uses a mixture of both!

This human-first approach has many uses from many different industries.

A solution-based framework with 5-interchangeable steps focused on solving wicked and uncertain problems by paying out assumptions right in the beginning, empathising with real users who are going to use the product, define the problem to solve, ideating, and prototyping solutions, and involving users again in user-testing.

This framework has been proven highly efficient, cost and time-saving, innovative, and versatile. Having a good grasp of this is certainly gonna help you become a better product designer.

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Waris Hussain

I'm a User Experience Designer, a curious soul always keen to learn as much as possible. Here to share what I've learnt and get better at life.