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Product Design Thinking: Take Your Product to the Next Level

Image Coworkers stand next to a glass board covered with sticky notes, discussing the design of their product.
Table of Contents

When you’re getting ready to design a product to solve problems, you hear all kinds of tips, terms, and suggestions. It can be a lot to take in, but some aspects are more important than others. Using a design thinking approach will ensure that you are doing everything in your power to create a human-centered product.

Product development is an iterative process. Therefore, it should always be divided into appropriate phases or stages that will collectively create the solution that the user seeks (ultimately, the product).

Today, the competition is fierce, making it an even more enormous task for SMBs and small brands that may not have big budgets for design and product development. That’s why you have to take each aspect as it comes and gain a solid understanding of design thinking. Design thinking transforms organizations and empowers them to develop creative solutions and gain a competitive advantage. 

Design thinking is one element that every business needs to possess in some fashion. It would be best to think creatively to generate new ideas and practical solutions that deliver on human needs. The various aspects of design thinking can all be wrapped up together and inserted into the product development process until you have built a solid foundation.

First, let’s talk about the case for design thinking—what exactly is this process, and why is it necessary? We’ll look at the principles and tenets of design thinking, help you understand the various phases of design thinking, and so much more. In the end, we’ll close with some valuable tips to sum everything up and a collection of resources that you can use to learn more about this process and how it impacts product development. 

The Case for Design Thinking 

Coworkers stand next to a glass board covered with sticky notes, discussing the design of their product.
Design thinking helps design teams align their product needs with their target user and helps team members to better collaborate with one another.

The radical element of design thinking in modern society is that its primary focus is on human beings—in today’s big data universe where we’re all just a bunch of numbers and end-users, that’s hard to find. It’s necessary, though, because if you remove the human point, the entire exercise is one of futility. Even without labeling it, designers and other creatives have been using design thinking methods for centuries. 

Design thinking ensures that design teams understand their target user when it comes to problem-solving. By utilizing a user-centric approach and focusing on human interaction, they can use design thinking techniques to solve problems in a way that allows them to develop a structured process that brings about proposed solutions, creative confidence, and idea generation.

However, taking the concept from thought to product is a delicate journey that involves several stages, considerations, and a wealth of understanding to solve complex problems for the people who use our products. 

Let’s take a quick look at the definition of design thinking in a very simplistic way before we dive into the details of it all. It isn’t difficult to grasp, but it covers many information and complex methodologies. We’ll also dig into all the aspects of design thinking that you need to know to set you up for the best product development and consumer problem-solving. 

Design Thinking Defined

Design thinking is a way of thinking about product design and development that considers multiple factors to address a range of challenges and ensure that designers are only creating and launching products that will be effective. It does this by considering:

  • What the people desire
  • What is economically viable
  • What is technologically feasible

Essentially, you’re articulating the creative process which drives human endeavors. It’s all about solving complex problems in a manner that is focused on consumers and their needs and expectations. 

This practice is rooted in questions, offering a powerful tool to tackle challenges by defining and re-framing the problem in human-focused ways. But, unfortunately, it’s a concept that many of us practice by default—trying to determine the best possible solution that meets demands while not breaking the budget or going outside the realm of what your company can deliver. 

Considering how a product is created, designed, and marketed to address or resolve a specific problem ensures that you choose products that have a place in the market. It also allows you to ensure they get a good placement in the market, which will help increase their success rate. 

The 4 D’s of Design Thinking

Often, the easiest way to remember things is to use acronyms, lists, and what are known as pneumonic devices. In this case, the “4 D’s” is a lot easier than trying to keep all the words at the forefront of your mind. You have enough to think about- make it easy on yourself where you can. 

As you are beginning the process of design thinking, you’ll want to focus on these four basic tenets. Although more steps and details are involved in the whole process, this helps generalize things and keep teams focused on what they are trying to achieve. 

  • Discover: This is about discovering the potential problems that a user faces and the audience of users that your business will reach. You will also generate ideas and conduct UX research during this stage.
  • Define: You will also need to define the problem and the solution you offer while also considering alternative solutions. Your design team will use a solution-based approach at this point.
  • Develop: After defining these elements, you’ll need to develop your research and continue your ideations to develop a final product. Typically, a team will prototype and test at this stage.
  • Deliver: Then, you will ultimately deliver the solution to the user to carry on with whatever they were trying to do before they ran into a problem. However, this is also known as the testing phase, where ongoing experimentation is conducted.

It’s all about figuring out what users need and what they want. Often, these are two very different things. That is why you need to take the time to research everything and understand your business perspective. Psychology can be a valuable resource when you are trying to understand consumers for the sake of product development and Design. 

HOW THIS HELPS PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT AND PLACEMENT

When you do all of this correctly, you will ensure that you develop the best possible product and set it up with a solid market placement. In addition, it will give you the chance to stand out above the competition and help you better understand what your audience expects and needs. 

If you do not utilize design thinking, you could end up getting outpaced by the competition and waste valuable resources developing products that aren’t effective or delivering solutions that your audience can use. The more insight you have, the better. To help you with that, let’s take a closer look at the stages of design thinking and some tips to keep your efforts on track. 

The 5 Stages of the Design Thinking Process 

A finger points at the design thinking process, which includes Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test.
An overview of the design thinking process, and how it can help you design better products for human needs.

We call these stages because they don’t necessarily have to be linear, so they’re not “steps,” per se. They may or may not be sequential, and they may even repeat on occasion for the sake of refinement. This is a journey, and it can take place in several ways. There may even be shortcuts or side ventures along the way; however, direction and destination are always at the forefront of the journey. 

Although the explanation of design thinking can get rather lengthy because it covers so much, these five stages or phases concisely articulate the process. Herbert Simon first outlined them in 1969 as part of a Design Thinking process model, and while there are several variations used today, they all have a basis in this original model. Some models may have different steps or combine them differently, but they generally include the following stages. 

STAGE ONE: EMPATHIZE – RESEARCH USERS’ NEEDS 

Many of us think that we know what our business needs and what our ideal user desires, but often we are thinking first of ourselves and making many assumptions about consumers in general and the possible users of your product. However, without empathy, you cannot succeed in this process. Strategic business objectives and a sound business model can get you so far, but a deep understanding of the consumer is more valuable to ensure the success of your product than anything else. 

When you can truly understand the needs of your audience, as well as potential barriers, attitudes, and other aspects, you can unlock plenty of new solutions that uncover a variety of brand opportunities. But, first, you must engage with and observe people understand their needs and emotional and psychological consumer experience. 

What do your users need, and how can you help them navigate those needs? This will set you up to better understand your role in product development and put design thinking to use in multiple ways. 

STEP TWO: DEFINE – STATE USERS’ NEEDS AND PROBLEMS

Once you’ve empathized with your audience to discover and learn about their needs, it’s time to clarify and define things even further. You will want to narrow your focus and ensure that everyone is aware of the user, their potential need or problem, and how your product design can solve that need. Consider barriers, lifestyle influences, cultural realities, and other elements. Look for patterns or themes that may be popping up. 

Consider any new unmet needs you’ve discovered or any unexpected barriers that should redirect your focus. Then, compile all of this information into a brief that you can deliver to your organization’s stakeholders. This ensures that you have actionability and guidance for the design process, but it also ensures that thought leadership is focused on building momentum with design thinking. 

STEP THREE: IDEATE – CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS AND CREATE IDEAS

This is your chance to unleash your creative problem solving once and for all. Once you’ve identified the problem, you can start working on the many ideas that will drive your solutions. Before you can start coming up with “solutions,” of course, you have to find the paths to get there. Challenging assumptions and utilizing established design principles will help you throughout this phase. Finally, you have to consider all the directions the challenge could take and assess the opportunities found in the landscape. 

This is perhaps the messiest phase of the process. Still, modern technology has helped to clean it up a bit—brainstorming, mind-mapping, and other creative methods can now be done digitally, or at least managed that way, to ensure that you have everything on file and can consider all the options. But, of course, the eventual goal will be to choose the most likely pathways to pursue because you won’t have the means to follow them all. 

You can use your intelligence and collected data to determine where your pathways stand and which ones have the best viability. This is also a great place to perform a SWOT assessment or a review of:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

It would help if you did this for all potential paths to get the best outcome with your creative endeavors. 

STEP FOUR: PROTOTYPE – START TO DEVELOP SOLUTIONS

Now it’s time to experiment. Your ideas will start becoming tangible elements: the packaging design, the retail experience, the digital experience, etc. Iteration and prototyping help breathe a sense of life into the concept that hasn’t been there before. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box for possible solutions—be unexpected and get consumers talking. Don’t worry about consumer understanding just yet—you can always try it out in testing to ensure the concept delivers as you expected. 

This phase involves a lot of redesigning, rejections, and improvements through rapid iterative change. This process empowers teams and ensures users’ needs are met. This allows teams to detach in new ways and be imperfect, collaborating and trying things out while depersonalizing the process, so creatives don’t feel restricted. While you want to create solutions that offer a personal touch, you should depersonalize the creative thinking process to get to the end product so that you don’t mar the results. 

STEP FIVE: TEST – TRY OUT THE SOLUTIONS YOU’VE CREATED.

Now that the creativity is done flying and things have solidified into existing ideas and solutions, it’s time to test them. There are several different ways to test out your products and solutions, including through market research, direct product testing, and so much more. You should monitor the feedback of all kinds, whether numerical or qualitative and ask open-ended questions about what’s lacking to get more valuable user input. 

When testing your concepts, you’ll need to optimize them as you go along. Consumer surveys, for example, can help you determine the style of product you put on the market next. On the other hand, if you want to consider what features to include, you may conduct market research on the competition. 

It would be best to make sure that the human beings you are creating solutions for can utilize the solutions you create. Skip the “yes/no” style of questions and ask how, why, or what you can do to improve the user experience. Test, test, and test again to ensure that your products always hit the mark even before they hit the market. 

Examples of Products That Have Benefited from Design Thinking

Image of An engineer sits at his desk, using CAD software to design a product.
Design thinking has been employed by organizations and teams to better align their product development with the pain points of their target users.

Several hundred products have benefited over the years from the design thinking methodology. The whole point of this process is to solve a consumer need and do so in a new, innovative way. You can take inspiration from those who have come before you, including major brands like Proctor & Gamble, Airbnb, and others. 

Some of our favorite design thinking wins include:

PillPack: The all-in-one medication solution that makes taking medications simple. 

Airbnb: Their attention to detail and understanding of their users helped double revenue with better quality photos. 

Uber Eats: A delivery app cleverly disguised to blend in but uniquely catered to each city. 

Project Bloks: This is an interactive experience from Google that uses physical blocks to help teach kids how to code tangibly. 

These are only a handful of the examples out there that you’ll find when you start doing your homework on design thinking. We could list at least a dozen more off the top of our heads, but the complete list would be nearly impossible to compile. So instead, it’s about taking a unique approach to problem-solving and addressing user needs in an entirely new way. 

Tips for Getting Started with Design Thinking 

Image of Coworkers discuss the design of a product by using design thinking. Wireframes and sketches are surrounded by sticky notes with key terms.
Design thinking can be executed across all teams involved in your product development to find solutions and solve problems.

We’ve covered a lot of information thus far. Unfortunately, it can be overwhelming to try and keep track of it all. Fortunately, it’s also easy to summarize with helpful tips and reminders to ensure that you get started on the right path with your design thinking process. Here’s what you need to know. 

Remember that this is a conversation and a creative process. You need to give the team creative freedom and generalize things in the early brainstorming days. Listen to the customers and stay with what they want from you while allowing all ideas to come forth. 

  • Make sure that your observation skills are astute and objective. This means you should never include preexisting ideas or notions in your analysis. Instead, you will want your observers to learn from the limited information offered and find patterns in complex situations. 
  • Anything can happen. You can’t expect perfection every single time. Ultimately, you can’t expect perfection at all. Design thinking does come with its risks and errors. There’s no absolving of responsibilities here or assuming that things can or should be “perfect” – that’s not how it works. 
  • Look around and get ideas from everywhere. Ask anyone who has an opinion what they think and when they offer their input, make sure that you listen
  • Get rid of that impending fear of failure. When you genuinely embrace design thinking and all it entails, you will need that fear of rejection removed if you capitalize on your imagination. 

Putting user feedback to set up your design thinking strategies or process will also benefit you. But, ultimately, it’s about taking advantage of the resources right in front of you because they are generally the most valuable tools and ideas you have. 

Resources to Help You Learn More About Design Thinking 

Many of the places from which we’ve gathered our research have a lot to offer in the way of design thinking resources and tools that you can use. Whether you want to learn more about the process itself, how to implement it for your product development, or even how you can incorporate your design thinking as a part of the overall UX design process. 

The Interaction Design Foundation was founded in 2002 and is the most prominent online design school globally, with over 122,000 graduates and counting. In addition, they offer plenty of free resources in articles, blogs, other publications, boot camps, masterclasses, and more. 

It would help if you also considered the design resources available from the American Marketing Association. They have a lot to offer businesses and entrepreneurs who are just starting with product development and need to learn how to adopt the right mindset before beginning. Harvard Business School also has plenty of resources about design thinking as well.

And of course, you’ll also find helpful insights like:

IDEO’s Design Thinking Resources

Harvard Business Review: Why Design Thinking Works

It’s About Intuition and Creating a Conversation

Ultimately, design thinking is something that should be natural and intuitive. Although there are a lot of terminologies and academic back-and-forth on the subject, its fundamental purpose is to help you deliver a better experience and interaction, as well as a better product, for your audiences. You’re organizing and codifying a very creative and non-linear process, helping to improve the collaborative approach across the board. This will foster a more robust design culture and help your business create impressive solutions to solve the problems of today’s consumers.

Conclusion

In the end, design thinking is all about delivering a better experience for your customers. It’s a process that helps you think more creatively and collaboratively to solve problems and create solutions. While it can be complex and seem daunting at first, with the right tools and support, you can harness the power of design thinking to take your business to new heights. If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you apply design thinking principles to your next big idea, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We would be happy to discuss your project further and see how we can help make your vision a reality. To browse Jaycon’s product design capabilities, learn more here.

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