design thinking - cover

The Foundation of Design Thinking in UX UI

Design
8 min
Dec 19, 2023

Imagine if every time you used a piece of software, the app felt easy and elegant and actually improved your day, as if it was designed just for you. This is the promise of design thinking for UX/UI.

Design thinking brings users to the heart of product design through empathy and conversation. It’s a deeply human approach that unites teams to serve real people. As a result, you can deliver experiences with the soul.

In this article, we’ll unpack the concept of design thinking, discuss its benefits for your product design, and explore the five stages of the design thinking process.

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a creative problem-solving framework. It brings together design disciplines with psychology and sociology to deeply understand target users. This concept allows teams to challenge assumptions, reframe problems, and sculpt solutions that truly connect.

Design Thinking

Here’s how design thinking works in practice. Imagine you’re working on reimagining the retail mobile app experience for a retail client, pursuing the design thinking approach. So, you start with user interviews to build empathy and begin to hear things like… customers feeling overwhelmed navigating loads of categories and products, forgetting items in their carts after getting distracted, and craving more personalized recommendations.

You take those core frustrations and quickly sketch some rough storyboards mocking up how a more streamlined, personalized mobile experience could work. You also build a clickable prototype replicating a few key app interactions to make it feel slightly more realistic.

Just that bare minimum prototype is enough to recruit some past customers, demo this modified experience, and capture feedback on whether you are heading in the right direction. Early, rapid testing is crucial for course correction right away. It helps you refine concepts, double down on areas that resonated most, and unlock plenty of new considerations before spending months building out high fidelity app screens and flows.

Thus, with design thinking, you can make the entire design process super collaborative, tangible, and centered around real user reactions every step of the way. Let’s now learn more about the importance of design thinking for your business.

Why Is Design Thinking in UX/UI Design Important?

Here’s the reality — we’re building apps people depend on. Bad UX causes minor frustration for users at best and real economic damage at worst.

Design thinking holds teams accountable to user needs. It gives UX designers a framework to connect plans back to user insights. Data and metrics are crucial, but nothing replaces sitting with customers to hear their stories first-hand.

This raw emotional connection makes innovation possible. Think about it — how can you expect to design what users dream about if you never talk to them to learn their hopes?

Benefits of Design Thinking for UX/UI Design

Beyond generally improving the world, there are some real benefits to integrating design thinking into UX/UI work.

benefits of design thinking

Stop Wasting Money

Creating anything requires significant time and money invested across teams and equipment. Design thinking offers a built-in mechanism to ensure financial resources stay focused on solutions customers truly want.

By rapidly testing low-fidelity prototypes with target users early in development, you can quickly expose flawed ideas or false assumptions before over-investing for months in building products that miss the mark. Observational user testing combined with customer conversations validates what resonates emotionally.

Uncover Surprising Solutions

Too often, teams narrow possibilities by making overly rigid assumptions far too early in the process about what customers might desire. Good design thinking intentionally makes space for those unexpected surprises that emotionally resonate with and delight end users.

As you engage with real life customer stories, previously hidden needs and opportunities surface organically. Observing users struggle with workarounds for unmet needs inspires creativity unbounded by past solutions or current offerings.

Promote Inclusivity

Design thinking helps create products, services, and experiences that work better for all kinds of different people. By making an effort to talk to and understand users from different backgrounds early on, design teams can spot ways their ideas might leave some users out or make things tougher for them.

Doing research directly with people who have vision, hearing, or mobility impairments, who live on lower incomes, or who face other challenges provides insights on what they need and what doesn’t work well for them now. You build empathy when you hear their stories. And once you get what their reality looks like, you can’t un-see it.

From there, you have this superpower to translate what you’ve learned into choices that make the end product or service more accessible and inclusive.

Provide Value Faster

Today’s consumers expect personalized, real-time digital experiences to fit seamlessly into their lives. By focusing cross-functional teams on identifying and delivering the smallest viable product sets with elements users will love immediately, you can get solutions to market faster.

And by gathering ongoing user feedback based on actual usage, you can further refine solutions while incorporating emerging needs in future releases.

Earn Trust and Loyalty

At its essence, design thinking aims straight for the heart by creating authentic emotional connections with customers rooted in care and delight. By crafting a user experience grounded in genuine user needs from the start, you can build meaning, value, and relationships that foster satisfaction, trust, and enduring loyalty.

Improve Team Collaboration

Even with creative talent scattered across functions, misalignment around strategic vision happens easily without the glue of shared purpose and common understanding. This is where design thinking’s early emphasis on collective user research can help you immensely.

Cross-functional teams converge around core human needs data revealed straight from the source — real users. This forms a cohesive unit with tight bonding around creating outstanding customer experiences.

5 Steps of Design Thinking Process

Now that we know why UI/UX and design thinking must go hand in hand, here are five fundamental stages that form the backbone of design thinking.

5 steps of design thinking process

1. Empathize

Design thinkers immerse themselves in customer environments to intently observe, engage, and uncover true needs missed by traditional market research. The goal? Develop raw emotional comprehension of precisely what users require.

Before reinventing the wheel, designers must first gather critical context by watching people navigate existing solutions. For example, open-ended conversations can reveal backstories, priorities, and emotions connected to user needs. Therefore, at this stage, instead of making assumptions in isolation, teams collect data directly from the source — real people!

2. Define

After gathering critical insights during the previous phase, design teams synthesize key user problems and needs into concise problem statements. These framing statements boil down to what matters most to users within the project’s constraints.

Well-defined problem statements act as compasses, keeping ideas tightly centered on the users’ needs validated through direct observation and conversations. They take forms like “How might we…” questions.

3. Ideate

With user needs solidly framing the challenge, UX design teams unlock free-flowing creativity during ideation without judgement. Visualizations like sketching concepts convey meaning faster and accelerate communication possibilities.

Thinking first in terms of quality and practicality restricts exploring directions that could delight customers in unexpected ways. So ideation asks “what if” to stretch limits. Early crazy concepts get narrowed down later to quality solutions deeply focused on resonating emotionally with users.

4. Prototype

At this stage, the best ideas get translated into simplified prototypes conveying the proposed functionality without heavy upfront investment. Testing the riskiest hypotheses first via scrappy prototypes generates constructive user feedback quickly.

5. Test

Finally, real users interact with prototypes while teams carefully observe responses. Quick experiments reveal improvements for even better customer experiences within the following iterations. Testing never stops until teams deliver solutions vetted to succeed by the actual humans served.

This process is rarely linear, often looping between building prototypes and testing with users until solutions are refined for primetime.

Conclusion

Design thinking in UX/UI design revolutionizes how you approach creating solutions by putting real people at the heart of the process. It connects you more deeply to user needs through empathy, conversation, and a willingness to be surprised.

Following the five stages from immersive observation to rapid experimentation leads to experiences with the soul since you took the time to understand the souls of those you serve.

Eventually, this framework unites teams around core human truths, accelerates innovation, and earns trust through accountability to user emotions.

by Ivan Klyzhenko
UX Startup Advisor, Uitop

FAQ

What exactly is design thinking?

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation and problem-solving. It brings together empathy for the user, creativity in idea generation, and rationality in prototyping and testing.

How is design thinking used in UX and UI design?

In UX and UI design, design thinking puts the user experience first when designing products, interfaces, systems, and services. Designers emphasize observation, ideation, rapid prototyping, and continuous user testing, keeping the focus on how target users think, feel, and interact.

Why has design thinking become so popular recently?

The digital age has made experiences with products and services increasingly important. Design thinking provides a way to differentiate through delightful, frictionless user experiences. Since good UX equals good business today, design thinking has become a must-have approach.

What are some key principles of design thinking?

Some principles include maintaining an empathetic mindset toward the user, deferring judgement in brainstorming, embracing ambiguity and experimentation early on, prototyping ideas quickly, and testing with users continuously. It’s also collaborative and non-linear.

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