Our Approach to Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. It’s extremely useful in tackling complex problems that are ill-defined or unknown, by understanding the human needs involved, by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, by creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and by adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing. We utilize the 5 Stage approach Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. 

Design Thinking has become commonplace in the design stages of digital initiatives and when done well it results in opportunities to radically change the Customer Experience and lead to uncovering previously unknow business opportunities, however from our experience there are a few must get rights in the process so as to ensure that the output from the design thinking process truly delivers the identification of real business value.

Figure : Design Thinking Methodology

Design Thinking

A powerful process of problem-solving that begins with understanding unmet customer needs.

1. Empathize

The fundamental underlying principle of the design thinking process is that it is a Customer Centric approach, this means we really need to “get inside the heart” and the head of our customer or user. From our experience it is critical to spend time prior to the design thinking workshop to interview and observe Customers (both external and internal) in their real working environment, whether that is a Mining Supervisor in the field, a Parts Coordinator in the office or warehouse, or Technical Support Engineer working mobile outside of the office environment. 

In this stage we are trying to capture both the logical and emotional aspects of the Customer as they undertake their work. We believe there are very close similarities between a Gemba walk, with the objective to “go to see” the problems and understand the frustrations, and not to fit the findings to a preconceived solution.

We need to put aside our assumptions on how things should be and listen and observe our users so we can gain real insights into their feelings, thoughts and needs.

2. Define

Here is where we define the problem we are trying to solve, we do this by organizing, interpreting and making sense of the data collected during the Empathize phase. This is one of the most overlooked steps.


Quite often companies tend to skip over this step with the desire to quickly move into problem solving mode. This often results in ill-defined solutions or solutions that don’t really deliver positive User outcomes and hence fail to address the underlying business need. 


So, what makes a good problem statement and why is it important?

A good problem statement should state the Users needs and problems, it will guide your team, and provides focus on specific needs that have been identified, it’s a clear definition of the problem to be solved.

A good problem statement should have the following characteristics:


  • Human Centric, it should be framed according to a specific group of customers or users, their needs that were identified during the previous phase. It should be about the people we are trying to help and not about the technology, product specs or monetary aspects such as cost reduction or profitability. 

  • It should define the problem we are trying to solve in such a way as to provide freedom to be creative. It should not be specific in either the method to be used or technical requirements to be meet, as both have the potential to limit the team creativity in addressing the user needs. But it also needs to be specific in terms of the scope of the problem to be solved. If too wide it can result in teams to feel overwhelmed and lose focus.Most commonly used tools in this phase are Empathy Maps and for those familiar with Lean tools can use the 5 Why approach however this is more often complemented using a Why – How laddering approach, the objective is the same that is to have a clear understanding of the problem we are trying to solve. 

3. Ideate

In this Stage we challenge existing assumptions and generate new ideas and innovative solutions. This is really the “thinking outside of the box” step, in this stage a key component is the Design Thinking Workshop, here we invite participants from the Customers and Users who are familiar with the problem scope, we seek to validate the insights gained from previous phases and then use the creative ability of the team to brainstorm and generate new ideas.


Prior to conducting the workshop we would recommended that prework from the previous phases is consolidated this includes; having defined “persona’s” and empathy maps for the identified “users”, in addition we would prepare an initial Point of View (POV) which would contain a summary of who is the User we are addressing, what is their Need, and What Insights have we gained from observations, interviews and Empathy mapping. With all these in place you are then ready for the Design Thinking workshop. 


When conducting a Design Thinking Workshop, we believe it is critical to have an experienced facilitator to guide the process and to avoid confrontation or judgmental behavior.

Typically we would start with sessions to “introduce” the persona we are focusing on, this includes sharing the previously developed empathy maps and encouraging the participants to build on these maps based on their personal insights from the process, we would then introduce the initial POV as a means of ensuring clarity and focus on the problem we are trying to solve.

By this stage all the participants should have a similar level of understanding and empathy of the target User and now we can start the real Ideation, one of the popular tools during this phase is to ask the question “How might we” this allows a free flow of ideas on how we might differently address the problem. The key focus of this phase is on Idea generation, it is about expanding our thinking on the what’s possible, without being constrained by the current situation.


We encourage people to “ask the stupid questions” without fear of judgement, as this is a key step in gaining deeper understanding and leads to greater idea generation. During this brainstorming phase we seek to ensure that all participants are actively engaged in the Ideation process.


In summary this step is about expanding the realm of the possible, it not about finding the one “silver bullet” idea but rather its about generating the broadest range of possibilities. Typically, we expect that the Ideation Phase would be completed in the first day of the Design Thinking Workshop.

Figure : Design Thinking Process

4. Prototype

This Stage is where we take the “many” Ideas generated from the previous Stage and begin to focus on the few that will have the greatest impact on the User. Here we typically begin with a grouping of the ideas around specific themes and then prioritization techniques for the team to define which of the Ideas to take forward in the prototype phase.


In the workshop we encourage participants to “build” low -fidelity prototypes of their prioritized ideas, typically this begins with the building of a storyboard on how the User interaction will change when utilizing the new solution.

This is the first step in the transition from abstract ideas into a tangible product, once the storyboard has been completed the team would then move into building a mockup sketches of the prototype showing the basic functionality of the design.

The key here is to just start building without over elaborate discussions, as the purpose is to gain insights as we go along, again speed is important to move quickly and avoid emotional overinvestment in the ideas as this may limit our ability to objectively evaluate as we get too attached to the design ideas.


During this process it is important to keep the team grounded in addressing the original key concerns we are addressing and the ideas to solve them, sometimes it is easy for teams to go off at a tangent to designing some small aspects of the solution and lose sight of the overall objective.


At each stage of the prototyping process we should remember that we are addressing a User need and we should test the prototype against the previously identified User expectations and working environment. At each stage it is possible the team will reiterate the prototype steps as they uncover unexpected issues or concerns that they can use to modify and enhance their prototype. 

5. Testing

This is the final Stage in the Design Thinking process; here we seek feedback from Users on the functionality of the design idea. Since the underlying premise of the Design Thinking is that it is Customer / User (Human) centric process, this final phase is critical. Gathering feedback is core to the design thinking process and care must be taken to ensure that all feedback is captured. During the design thinking workshop, it may not be possible to have an actual User attend, however this can be substituted by one of the team members role playing as a User for preliminary testing.


Since the design thinking is a reiterative process this preliminary testing most likely will result in the team revisiting the Prototype Phase to make adjustments and modifications.   There are many ways of soliciting feedback but one common method is to have the User provide feedback in terms of “I like ..”, “I wish ..”, “what if …” categories as this enables the team to collect feedback in a critical but positive way.

After completion of the testing in the Design Workshop the team should then have a good prototype that captures the key functionalities of the design.

Quite often the core team would then take this prototype solution and continue testing with real users to further enhance the prototype design at this stage we need to ensure that we are testing with the right Users, people deeply involved in the existing process, we need to ensure that we are clear in terms of what it is we are testing, again the team should maintain an open mind and treat all feedback as positive input to the design process, being adaptive during the testing to User ideas and suggestions.


After completing the User testing the team can again further enhance their design for the final product, this can then be taken forward to other key stakeholders for final testing and feedback, these stakeholders would be key decision-makers for the area other than the users, perhaps IT department if it is a technology solution, programmers and developers, so that team may gain insights into any challenges related to when it becomes time to build the real digital product solution.


When done well the Design Thinking Process can result in identifying real insights and Customer-Centric solutions that will truly make an impact to the current way of doing business.

Interested in knowing more about our Design Thinking approach? Please contact our expert.

Alec Hutcheon

Digitalization & Change Management Expert

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