Design Thinking: Problem-Solving based on Empathy in an Iterative Process

Design thinking is important to your team—learn more about it.

Design thinking is a process that uses the human point of view to look at how design can be both technologically feasible and economically viable (Source). This allows individuals who are not trained as designers to use creative tools. Design thinking also allows a company to figure out issues in the design when that problem is possibly not known or fully definable. 

Why Design Thinking Is Important  

Design thinking is important because your team can use it to uncover unmet needs of the individual or organization that you are designing for. You can help launch new ideas with less risk because of your well researched design. The new ideas can lead to solid solutions and the outcome of the product or service can move faster. Design thinking helps with creating innovative solutions and helps show what opportunities are available based on the needs of the client (Source). 

Where To Apply Design Thinking

IDEO U, one of the leading organizations for design thinking, found that this process can be applied to several types of organizations (Source). Here are a few ways in which design thinking might be applied by an organization: 

Service Design 

  • Deep thinking about how a service is to be delivered

Experience Design 

  • Thoughtful consideration about how the end-user experiences some part of their business process

Product Design

  • Product creation, iteration, and imaging
  • Determining and solving a product’s problems
  • Identifying and addressing specific needs in the marketplace 


  • Create a new approach to handle the employee cycle or other processes in the organization
  • Adapting an organization to changing times

Business & Organizational Design

  • Viewing problems or information through the eyes of the consumer
  • Finding meaningful solutions to the business’s problems
  • Discovering issues quickly and prioritizing challenges

Common Steps of Design Thinking 

According to IDEO U, there are six different steps that are used in the design thinking process (Source). The steps in this process can happen multiple times over and you can jump back and forth between phases. 

  • Find and frame the driving question 
  • Gather inspiration by discovering what people need
  • Generate Ideas from the more obvious to breakthrough ideas
  • Make ideas tangible by creating rough prototypes
  • Test to Learn: Refine → Gather feedback → Experiment
  • Share the story that inspires action 

However, according to Stanford University’s “”, there are 5 steps of design thinking, which are slightly different on organization and execution (Source). 

Empathize - Here are some key questions to consideration when empathizing with an individual: 

  • What does the individual feel? 
  • What words or actions tell us that an individual is feeling this way? 
  • What feelings are identified? 
  • What keywords would describe what the feelings are? 
  • How do you know the feelings you are describing are correct? 

During the empathizing process we can use paraphrasing to verify the accuracy of what feelings are being portrayed. 

Define - Define the feelings the individual has stated or that you have observed. 

  • Determine what the main problem is. 
  • Use language that is definable, has meaning, or has action words. 
  • Look at language that is positive or empathetic, don’t focus on the negative. 

Ideate - Generate ideas through a variety of methods: 

  • Diagrams (eg. mind mapping)
  • Brainstorming
  • Notes
  • Inquiry

During this process help the individual or group look at information through a different lens. Ask the individual or organization to think outside of the box for solutions and think about it through a different perspective.

Prototype - Create and then make the solution. This stage can be altered and re-evaluated several times depending on the needs of the individual or organization. During this phase ask yourself questions like: 

  • Was the project a success or failure? 
  • Did it work? 
  • Did it not work? 
  • Why did it not work? 
  • How can we improve it? 
  • Are the improvements based on the user feedback? 
  • Is the user's experience being kept in mind when designing the improvements? 
  • Are the changes financially feasible? 

Test - This stage focuses on showing instead of telling the individual or organization about the product or service. The test stage: 

  • Provides insight into how to improve the experience in the future. 
  • Allows the designer to be able to fully feel how the individual or organization feels about the design. 
  • Helps the researcher fully understand how the design is viewed. 

Who Can Use Design Thinking 

Individuals who use design thinking should be able to empathize with the individual and/or organization with whom they are working. Using empathy we are better able to understand how the individual feels about the topic and allows us, as the researcher, to put ourselves in the clients’ position. Having a deep understanding of the individual enables us to fully connect with them and ascertain their feelings in terms of the problem, issue, circumstance, situation, or connection to a product or service. This type of process can be utilized by anyone, you do not need to be a design expert to use design thinking.


IDEO U (n.d.). Design thinking.

RRI Tools (2019). What is design thinking?

Stanford (n.d.). An introduction to design thinking process guide.